I started from nothing, from point zero. I applied for the YEU project BRAVE NEW YOU because I found the topic interesting but without any idea of how we were going to tackle such big issues as hate speech and real-life narratives. The first part was in Slovenia where the research was done and then in Portugal there were sessions and a lot of discussion on the topic for us to first understand and then manage to explain to other people the terms “hate speech” and “narratives”. Maybe learning the definitions and the terminology was not so difficult, but when it came to implement the alternative and counter narratives and activities in our local realities, the struggle was real. The Cyprus team chose to work on the ethnic conflict between Greek and Turkish Cypriots and create a bi-communal event to bring the youth together.
I consider our local action a successful one because I could see in people’s faces the interest and the questioning on such sensitive topics. We named our event “Youth vs. Hate” with the slogan “Let’s Break the Ice” because we wanted to represent the ice between the two communities and how understand each other may lead us to a better future. We wanted to erase all political and historical stereotypes and prejudices between the two communities and embrace individuality.
In this paragraph I would like to provide some of the things I would suggest to organizers of such events. Firstly, is to be informal and as simple as possible. Being formal and by using academic tone in your language makes people anxious and afraid to speak or participate in your activities. So, our event was held in a park with the purpose of creating a relaxing atmosphere for people to be able to open up more freely. We were explaining in detail what we were going to do at each stage and we gave enough time to break the ice, because our main aim was to give them a chance to come in touch and meet. We chose to have a limited number of participants (22 participants including the organizers), because we were working in smaller groups and also, we didn’t have any budget. We agreed on the duties that each organizer had during the event and we prepared the materials we needed such as printed outlines, papers, markers and pens. The time of our event was from afternoon (18.00) until night (22.00) because we were aware of the hot weather in Cyprus, people wouldn’t be able to focus on the activities under 45 degrees. In addition, I considered bringing food or snacks and it was a good idea because it really gave people a motivation to attend and be active in the activities. They say that the best discussions or ideas come over food!
The most fun parts of our event were the “meeting-up” games and the ice breakers. From the moment we got familiar with each other’s names and interests, it was a lot easier to talk and share stories on the topics of the activities. Another tool that empowered dialogue between the group was the “Pin Point” activity. We had a map outline of the island of Cyprus and we asked participants to pinpoint their favorite location (it could be a viewpoint, a nature landscape, a city, a village, etc.). This way, they would get to know Cyprus better beyond the “green line” and the buffer zone. People who hadn’t been comfortable visiting the other side of Cyprus, North or South part, would have some motives and recommendations.
My last but maybe the most effective suggestion is to include a charity box during the event. Especially for Cyprus, it turned out to be an effective and successful idea to gather donations like clothes, food, books, pencils, etc. Because we shaped a common ground for the two communities and anyone else that attended the event. In other words, apart from the activities, in order for the people to get to know each other, we met for the noble cause of helping those who were in need.
So… if we managed to make our group to think about how these two communities can be closer and do at least a minimal effort to achieve this… I consider it a successful step for a better future!