European youth project Fair Signs

Stimulating and letting inclusion happen:

Fair Signs week: 21 - 27 September 2014

Our mission is to create more inclusive societies. For this reason Inclusive Works implemented the Fair Signs week that was held in Trebnitz, Germany from the 21st to the 27th of September 2014. This week was a means to bring youngsters from different countries, with different backgrounds and abilities together and create an inclusive environment in which each person had equal chances of participation.

Four groups of youngsters, from Poland, Germany, Romania and The Netherlands, participated. The Polish and German youths, between the ages of 14-17, had impaired hearing, with the Polish group being completely deaf and the German group owning hearing aids and implants through which they could hear partially. The third group, the Romanian youths aged 15-18, live in SOS children’s villages in Bucharest and Sibiu and did not have any disabilities. Finally, the Dutch youths, aged between 17-22, did not have disabilities but were very interested in communicating and exchanging with the other groups. The aim of the week was to encourage interaction and understanding between different European participants with various backgrounds and abilities.

During the Fair Signs week we saw that the best way to initiate inclusion between youths is by means of sports. Two football matches were organised where both the deaf and the hearing participated. The teams were mixed so that each team had participants of different nationalities, ages and abilities. The matches required some effort on the part of the participants who could not always yell to their teammates to pass the ball, but had to find other means, such as waving their arms, to convey the same message.

Apart from sports, the concept of inclusion was discussed and explored by means of workshops. One very interesting workshop, given by Mischa Woutersen who represented the Fair Signs Group Netherlands, compelled all the participants to think about the importance of inclusion in building a stadium that would be accessible for all. Sub-divided into four groups, the participants were asked to create two different stadiums that were suitable for individuals in wheelchairs and children. In this way, the participants were not only actively thinking about the needs and facilities of the disabled and children, but they were also required to collaborate closely with each other and find (new) ways of, for example, saying where they wanted the restaurant to be placed in the stadium.

As a hearing person that does not understand sign language, it can be difficult to say what you want. On the other hand, when communicating to the hearing, the deaf experience the very same since the hearing participants do not speak ‘their language’. Interpreters that knew sign langauge, therefore, played a huge part in conveying these messages.

Throughout the week, it was visible that some participants, had acquired an interest in learning sign language and were seen communicating with the Polish and German groups ‘talking’ in sign language during lunch breaks and free time. Free time also allowed for further integration of the whole group. As the participants got to collaborate with each other during group sessions, doing energisers, learning sign language and the Dutch and Romanian languages, they were especially drawn to each other during free time to played card games such as poker or ‘The Black Cat’. Also, the use of technology facilitated the communication between the different groups. Participants from the Dutch, Polish and Romanian group made use of Google translate to communicate with each other, while some German and Dutch participants made use of the ‘notes’ application on their phones to write to each other during free time.

Other opportunities were created in order to let the participants mingle with each other. These included a welcome party on the second evening and a campfire and barbecue on the last. These two events turned out to be highly successful as everyone ended dancing to the ‘Ketchup song’ in sync on the first occasion. By the end of the week there was already a German-Romanian couple!

Inclusive Works takes pride in being a partner in a project which promotes group integration and inclusion. It is interesting, yet not entirely surprising, to find that inclusion among youngsters is best generated by means of sports and play. At the same time, while it is important to organise workshops and group activities that require all to participate equally, this project has also shown that it is just as important to provide spare time to the participants so that they can get a chance to communicate with and develop interest of the other youths, irrespective of their nationalities, age or (dis)abilities.

The Youth project “Fair Signs” was organised by: Schloß Trebnitz – Bildungs- und Begegnungsstätte and Kreisau-Initiative e.V. (Germany), Fundacja “Krzyżowa” dla Porozumienia Europejskiego (Poland), SOS Satele Copiilor (Romania) and the Fair Signs Group Netherlands with support from Inclusive Works (Netherlands).


The Fair Signs week: impressions

These are some of the impressions of the participants of the Fair Signs week (in Dutch):