Twenty-five young people, eight days, five different European countries and many ideas and sustainable opportunities to share and discover: these are the ingredients of the Erasmus + Youth Exchange project that took place from 6 to 13 September in Covilha, Portugal. Italy took part in it, together with Spain, Romania, the Czech Republic and Portugal, with five young people sent by the Youmore Morcelli Giovani association, which has been promoting leisure time, training and education for young people in Brescia for a long time. Among them, Stefano left because he wanted Europe, Simone instead to discover the world of European exchanges. It was also Irene’s first experience: she left because she wanted to try something new, to meet peers living in other places and to see the differences, always with the support of young people from her own country. Alessandro left because he loves travelling and discovering the world: being able to do it at a low cost and with the possibility of meeting many people from other countries seemed to him an opportunity not to be missed! The theme of the project convinced Greta, who combined her interest in sustainability with her desire to experience this kind of thing for the first time.
One of the main objectives of the exchange, entitled Eco Opportunities, was to raise awareness among the participants of the importance of the connection between man and nature, in particular by providing tools to promote entrepreneurship in areas such as sustainable tourism and the circular economy. The project was in fact organised by the Portuguese association Pinus Verde. This association was set up in 1998 with strong links to the Pinhal hinterland and since then has essentially been an instrument at the service of a community and a territory whose transversal objectives include improving the quality of life of rural communities, as well as promoting the multiple uses of the forest and safeguarding the environmental heritage. During the week there were different moments to work together towards these goals: there were moments to reflect on one’s own concepts of sustainability, responsible tourism and circular economy, moments to work in groups and create videos that could communicate these same concepts, but also quizzes and engaging team games to test the group’s knowledge of these issues, as well as to increase it.
The theme was also developed in the visits to the area: thanks to Pinus Verde, the participants were able to enter the Honey House, a meeting point for beekeepers in the area, visit the beehives, Janeiro De Cima, one of the twenty-six villages of the “Aldeias do Xisto” project, a social development project that has tourism as a key tool. The discovery of Portugal’s inland region continued with several hikes in the Serra da Estrela Natural Park, up to the highest point in the country.
But the heart of these exchanges is also the meeting of different cultures, languages and traditions from all over Europe. At the end of the day, there were intercultural nights, with each group presenting their country, showing photos, videos or offering quizzes or teaching traditional dances.
The evening continued with a tasting of typical products. These, as well as other free moments during the week, have the aim of introducing young Europeans to their Union, of putting them to the test in a multicultural context that would rarely be possible to breathe in everyday life.
They return home with a wealth of soft skills: social, civic, creative and linguistic competences, the same as those attested by the Youthpass, the certificate issued at the end of the exchange. In everyone’s baggage there are also smiles, new ties and the desire to start again.