18 Israeli, Swiss and Irish young people left their familiar surroundings to spend an unforgettable week together on Kibbutz Lotan in Israel’s Arava desert, as participants in a EuroMed Youth Exchange programme. The EuroMed Youth Programme is funded by the European Union and aims to support and strengthen the participation and contribution of youth organisations and youth from the Euro-Mediterranean region towards the development of civil society and democracy, to stimulate and encourage mutual understanding between young people within the Euro-Mediterranean region, to fight against stereotypes and prejudices and to promote active citizenship among young people and enhance their sense of solidarity.
Kibbutz Lotan’s Center for Creative Ecology partnered with the NGOs Amutat Tzell HaTamar (Israel), Verein Naturkultur (Switzerland) and the Mahon Community Development Project (Ireland) in order to bring the young people to Lotan for a unique experience of learning, growing and having fun – building (mud) walls and breaking cultural walls. Mark Naveh, Education Manager at Lotan’s Center for Creative Ecology said that “it’s a wonderful opportunity to have to bring these people together. They’re really building connections and communities and taking part in a great practical project learning how to build with alternative materials and learning about what it’s like to live on a kibbutz.”
It was a jam-packed week of mud, sun and love, giving the group a taste of Kibbutz Lotan life during their short stay in Israel. They spent the week living in an ecological neighbourhood with buildings constructed from straw bales and earth plaster, and worked together to improve the outdoor kitchen, using mud bricks that they made by hand to build arches and recycled beer bottles to create stained glass windows. Bar, one of the Israeli participants, thought that “the most beautiful part is that we made it using stuff that we already have so we don’t have to buy anything”.
Aside from their mud project, the EuroMed participants had classes on cultural diversity, took part in plenty of fun group bonding activities, went snorkeling in Eilat and slept under the stars in the desert.
Each of the groups took turns to host a cultural evening to educate the rest of the group on their country and culture. From Swiss rösti and meringues with apple puree made on the blender bike, to learning Irish folk dances and quizzing unassuming Israelis in Eilat about the story behind Passover, each group brought a taster of life back home with them to share with their friends. Viv Sadd, the Irish facilitator commented that “it’s an amazing experience to be part of this international youth exchange. While the group are adding value to the community by building, they’re also discussing intercultural differences, misunderstandings and obstacles are being clarified and cleared. It’s a wonderful stepping stone for these young people to be part of this experience as they move on through their life”.
The week flew by with plenty of mud fights, and after enjoying Shabbat, the group said their shaloms and parted ways. Lotan hopes to see you all again soon!