Strengthening our wings, intertwining our roots

(Nathalie Breysse – Gabriel Coupeau)

 “I am knackered but it was worth it” -says Pablo, 25, who was at the same time logistic coordinator, animator and interpreter- “this seminar proved to me that young people are ready to face the challenges of such an intercultural society as ours.” From the 8th – 13th of July 2015, 40 young professionals and students met in Madrid for a five-day seminar addressing our understanding of who we are, where we come from, and how we engage in shaping the world we live in. Participants came from a myriad of places, from European countries to India or the Philippines.

Every morning, a conference would introduce the topic of the day: a challenge faced by our societies today. Youth unemployment, school dropouts, intercultural dialogue building, migrants and asylum-seekers integration, and youth involvement in civil society were the main challenges addressed. Led by compelling and engaging speakers, the morning conferences usually resulted in a lively debate where participants shared their own knowledge and personal experience.

The afternoon was mainly left for a different set of workshops, where participants could discover different ways of empowering people and influencing society: what methodology to be used when teaching math to students on the verge of dropping out of school? What is a think tank and how does it work? What is a collaborative leader and how do I become one? What is a social entrepreneur and why does social entrepreneurship make a difference in the business world ?

One of the challenges participants were presented with, focusing on immigration and cultural identities, sparked an impressive exchange. What is a migrant? Someone who moves from point A to point B? But then, am I not also a migrant? What does one feel when in a foreign and new culture ? How to integrate in a new environment while remaining oneself ?

As Amin Maalouf rightly points out, people cannot integrate in a society if part of their identity – the one or several cultures shaping their self – is rejected. The challenge to our modern societies is to create a unified society in which people do not feel parcelled, enclosed or labelled, forced to choose between different belongings.

As discussed during one of the conferences, a possible solution for people experiencing this sort of multiple belonging is to become “cultural bridges”. This position, however uncomfortable at times, yields the opportunity to “build bonds, resolve and rationalise misunderstandings, while moderating others to achieve the smoothing and mending conflicts”, as explains Maalouf (English translation by Brigitte Caland). Bridges are the key to creating a culture of encounter and dialogue.

In a way, the Roots and Wings project achieved just that: creating strong ties between people arising from different origins and lifestyles.

To sum up, one could say that those were five days of learning, listening and debating. Five days of sharing and laughter among people who were complete strangers to each other before the start of the event. The intensity and fun of the seminars was such that it often kept running into late hours at night, making many people think that the Madrid experience was one but “a very long and intense day.”