“It is hard to change”: building houses at the Youth Exchange

The Exchange wasDSCN1587 brilliantly organized: the proposed activities were according to the subject of the reunion between Portuguese, Italian, Macedonian and Ukrainian people. One of the activities was particularly interesting to do, and even more to reflect on. I am referring to the exercise, in which the group of participants were divided in small communities, each one with a set of specific material resources to build a house big enough to shelter every inhabitant. Obviously, there were richer communities in certain items than others, developing natural inequalities that we can actually find in the real world.

DSCN1594Another very interesting thing was the internal dynamics and the relations between communities. Mine being the poorest (we had sticks more than enough to build a solid structure of the house but not enough cardboard to build the walls and roof), we felt the inequality more intensively. Our first reaction was of inferiority comparing to other communities, and we felt almost immediately the injustice and despair. Our second reaction was to get our hands dirty.

At this second stage, each member of my community took a particular position. Some acted straight away and started building the house with what they had – after all, it’s the Poor Mentality: if you have beans and potatoes, and your neighbour has meat and pasta, it’s not worth looking at his plate and drool, might as well make some soup with what you have.

Others tried to see the big picture and come up with DSCN1573alternative solutions with the wealthier neighbors.
They asked them what was their building plan, to see if it was compatible in any way with ours, they questioned them about the chance of swapping materials, and in every attempt a negative response came. The wealthier community could not understand that we had things they needed (the structure), and they had things that we needed. Fortunately, during the game, we could find some solidarity from other communities that helped us without wanting anything in exchange.

In the end, everyone had incomplete, ugly and broken houses. Only afterwards, we’ve been told that we could have made ONE house, together, uniting forces to overcome each community’s limitation, that we could step out and observe the bigger objective of the exercise. We had failed on finding consensus, unity and flexibility. Naturally, the frustration was installed between all participants, such as an uprising for the lost time and despair about how to start over.

It is DSCN1600expected some resistance to change. It is hard to accept that our efforts have turned out useless, that we need each other to reach what we want. Those who have too much don’t want to share out of fear of the future; those who have too little fear asking for help and be forever in debt of the past. Overall, it’s hard to leave in the present and think that it is possible to live in harmony with different cultures, and that it is possible to overcome barriers that seemed at first sight insurmountable.DSCN1591 It is possible to look beyond what we’ve been taught since we were kids about rules, and stereotypes, and right or wrong. It is hard to change, but it is possible, and more than that, it’s a necessity in the current world.  We are all Made in the World.

Rita Nunes


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