The famous words of Neville Chamberlain about “a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing” ought to haunt us today more than ever. Events in faraway places matter to us all directly and we need to overcome our ignorance. We especially need to give young people the opportunity to connect with and learn from each other. And we also have to remember that no matter where we live, our own country is also far away in the eyes of someone else.
Indeed, we don’t even have to talk of countries: recent events in Paris and elsewhere remind us that the next street or neighbourhood may be just as distant in our minds, and the people living there no less unknown.
The challenge and the great benefit of international youth work is to enable contact, learning and respect between young people in a way that can simply never be achieved in the classroom or online. Moreover, this benefit can be brought back home and applied directly to our relations with people across the street. In an age of extremes, governments need to wake up to the possibilities in this simple and cost-effective solution.
These thoughts are provoked by my visit to Armenia this week. Here is a country which is certainly far away and of which I knew nothing, or at least very little – as I am sure do most British people. I didn’t even know the name its own people call it. I have had a glimpse, even if not more than that, into a unique culture, a curious language, proud national identity, a tragic history, and a geography which has placed the Armenians not only at the very crossroads of trade and cultural interchange for thousands of years, but also in a critical position between regions of present day conflict and upheaval, where closed borders are the hard and chronic symptoms of closed minds.
What more appropriate location could there be to bring together representatives of youth and education organisations from all over Europe, who share a belief in the importance of intercultural understanding, and the power of international projects to give young people the skills, experience and confidence to achieve this regardless of their social, economic, educational or cultural circumstances.
The European Network of Youth Centres www.eycn.org is founded on principles of equal opportunity and inclusion, lifelong learning, innovation, and high operating standards. Momentum World is now the UK representative in this group.
At a time when UK public opinion and political rhetoric are becoming increasingly Eurosceptic, Momentum World is proud to be working with free thinking partners all over our shared Europe, in pursuit of open borders and open minds.
Thank you Hayastan.