FAIR PLAY(ing) Belgium 2007

In August a group of young Salesian animators from the Salesian Pastoral Youth Service (SPYS) participated in an intercultural youth training course in Brussels Belgium. The Course was funded by the European Youth in Action Programme. Based on Don Bosco’s principle that play is a necessary endeavour for young people’s well being, the theme of the week was ‘Fairplay(ing) – Intercultural learning through the use of play’. The theme during the whole week was “Let Your True Colours Shine.” All the activities involved different games and tasks that were all aimed to share new ideas and experience different cultures.

On the 10th of August we met at the airport to start this adventure that we had all been waiting for since the beginning of summer. We were only four at the airport since two other participants were to join us in Belgium since they were taking part in ‘Eurizon’ which is another Salesian Youth Exchange. The excitement on our faces was evident since we were all eager to see what type of adventure was awaiting us three hours away. Well, actually the adventure started right at the airport when we managed to break a bottle of Maltese red wine which was supposed to be used during an intercultural night at the exchange.

After a three hour flight we found ourselves in an unfamiliar territory and that was the first sign of joy since we all knew that we were there…in Belgium! We were picked up from the Airport by a couple of Belgian friends who were also going to participate in the Youth Exchange. We set off to the Bosco House in Dilbeek in the outskirts of Brussels. We were the first participants to arrive since all the others were coming the next day. We spent the evening in a small restaurant a few minutes away from our residence were we tasted our first Belgian food.

The next morning all the other participants from Austria, Germany, Belgium, Czech Republic, Netherlands, and England started to arrive and by 4pm the whole group, which consisted of 25 youths, was there. That meant that the adventure could start…and so it did. The first day was more of an introductory one where everyone got to know each other better and first of all learn all the names of the other participants. After that was over a series of games and learning exercises filled much of the day programme and although at first it was a bit difficult to communicate with others, either due to language or also maybe due to shyness, everyone got on pretty well and by the third day we were all living as a family that had one thing in common – Salesian spirit and Don Bosco in our hearts.

During the ten day course, we all had the opportunity to do some voluntary work and also the chance to visit a Salesian playground where we spent most of the time playing with kids and singing songs to entertain them, even though sometimes we could barely understand each other. Yet everyone did his/her best to give absolute attention to the kids.

As days went by, one could easily notice that friendships were growing to a level that I don’t think anyone thought they would and this ensured that everyone was happy and was enjoying every moment. Jokes and laughter was a very important part of the day and as everyone was expecting, the Maltese excelled in this area.

The evenings were moments that I’m 100% sure that will remain stuck to our hearts for the rest of our lives. Apart from intercultural activities such as presenting traditional food to each other, presentations about the countries taking part, and a Eurovision night – in which ironically enough the Maltese classified in second – there were also moments of prayers and reflection that boosted our hearts with love and energy to share with the others throughout the week, just like Don Bosco used to do the same with his kids in the oratory. After the prayers, we all used to go down to have a drink in the bar that the Bosco House has in the basement. We used to spend a lot of time there since it was one of the relaxing moments where everyone can chat around and get to know each other better. In other words, the evening was something to look forward to. Apart from all the game activities, we also had time to visit Brussels and Leuven with the whole group and since we, the Maltese, stayed an extra day, we also managed to visit Brugge, a beautiful city in the northern part of Belgium.

Saying goodbye was never easy although everyone knew that the friendships made would remain forever. As the participants started to leave a common phrase that can sum up the friendship, love, and care shown by every participant in the spirit of Don Bosco was “Thank you and see you soon.” The experience was so fulfilling that probably words aren’t enough to describe it, yet here is the way the Maltese participants described the experience:

“It was great to meet and learn about other cultures with just a simple method: play.”

“The Fair Play training course in Belgium gave me the opportunity to experience something unique. I was able to enrich my organisational and leadership skills, meet other young volunteers from all over Europe, learn more about the Don Bosco way of dealing with youths, find some time to reflect, and also see the wonders of Belgium.”

“For me the Youth Exchange was an experience of personal growth. It was a week that made me more conscious of myself in different situations in everyday life.”

“It was simply amazing where I found the opportunity to learn more about Don Bosco and meet other youths with Salesian spirit from all around Europe.”

“It was just fun! Learning while playing is one of Don Bosco’s values and this was enhanced with spiritual moments and voluntary work which made us reflect on our lives.”

“To find an environment full of energy, which energy was derived from Don Bosco, was the best thing I found during this exchange. The presence of other youths from other European countries meant that one could share new ideas and learn more from other cultures. Above all, making new friends was also a very important factor and thus I can say that in Belgium I not only felt at home but I was in a world that one can only experience while participating in activities of this sort where Don Bosco and his spirit is put in the centre.”

Everyone wished to remain in Belgium; yet, all things have to come to an end and although we will surely keep everything experienced in our hearts, we will all be looking forward to have the opportunity to experience something similar where we can continue to grow and LET OUR TRUE COLOURS SHINE. Certainly one must thank SPYS that once again organised the Maltese group to go and participate in this Youth Exchange.