by Ilze Zirina, LAUKKU

This project met the challenge of Pandemic during the most important moment – after the first partner meeting when all the participants got on the same page, groups of young people were formed and everybody was excited to experience the Kick Off Seminar in Latvia…..

….March, 2020.

Latvian National team was excited to welcome international partners for Kick Off Seminar. It was supposed to happen in Rauna, Latvia, March 31 – April 4, 2020. The facilitators were more than ready: the avio tickets – bought, accommodation– organized, young people – ready to participate and meet international guests. In March 11, 2020 concerns about the the Covid 19 attack was so high that we seriously considered about the cancelation of the meeting in Latvia. And in March 12, the seminar in Latvia was canceled.

What’s next?!

Everybody confused and full of concerns. We came together on zoom platform April 3 to agree in next moves. We resisted digital platform. Some more than others. We all agreed that the essence of the project is about being together – physically in one room and time. Besides we were sceptical about kinesthetic learning on digital platform. Greece was more ready to start looking for new ways to connect through digital platform than rest of us. But… it took long and painful time till pandemic broke us and we started to look for digital tools. We did extension for the project 2 times. Final changes – we extended as far as we could – until December 31, 2021.

Summer/ Autumn 2020.

During the summer Poland, Greece, Latvia managed to run one more workshop, meeting their target group physically. Still, as Latvian team observed – the trust was gone. Participants were quiet and denial comparing to the last time we met them before the Pandemic. The first wave of Corona 19 was easier on Latvia, so also in October we could organize activities physically being in one space. We decided to step in Footprints of Greece ( Creating and Stepping in Footprints is 3 h long workshop created and described on paper by each partner for others to check how easy or difficult is to interpretate written description, created by another). Well, 4 people came. We run the workshop live on facebook for our partners to see if they wish. But that was the last time we met our young people in presence.

Partner Meeting 2 in Poland was supposed to happen in August. At some point it felt that it can actually happen, I mean – physical international meeting. But pretty soon many reasons showed that it is impossible. We met on ZOOM platform in July to think what to do with the international partner meeting and project in general. The meeting in the big group was heavy and stiff. Nevertheless, we came to common ground and agreed to extend the project and see if we can postpone the Partner Meeting 2 in Poland to October/November. We also agreed to have regular digital meetings in thematic smaller groups starting from September. Project’s FB group should be the platform where all the material of the project is collected but information should exchanged also through emails as few participants are not active FB followers.

Autumn 2020

As we know Partner Meeting in Poland did not happen also in Autumn 2020. We extended the project as much as we could – till the end of 2021. Still in October Latvian team did what they could to meet youngsters. As it metioned before, we stepped in Greek team’s footprints – implemented a workshop, created by Greek team in Rauna. Only four youngsters came. Of course we enjoyed to implement something what our foreign friends have created and also youngsters enjoyed when they forgot that they are so few.. but energy was not the same as before the pandemic.

In November we started online workshops within the target group. Latvian team started with “Dance Never Lies” facilitated by Inta Balode. It was a ZOOM talk/workshop about how dance is a good testing field of your real stance about issues in understanding, accepting and valuing the diversity.

Besides digital meetings we also started to collect materials for the final result of the project – the digital reading material. All the process was slow and heavy as people struggled with their everyday duties. And lack of energy exchange made to keep on moving the project each day more and more difficult.

Winter 2021

In January Greek team came up with a nice gift – an online workshop “ When Art Meets You!” The theme of the workshop was kinesthetic dialogue with our favorite piece of art. The workshop was great because first of all it was a possibility just to enjoy the facilitation of Greek team and participate being receiver and it also brought up some questions about the issues what could appear working digitally with youngsters and movement.

February was dark and quiet – no international nor local activity was heard in frames of project.

Spring 2021

In March Latvian National team started digital laboratories of kinesthetic learning among themselves but also opened that space for partners and later – even their friends to join. All in total Latvian team run 4 digital laboratories of kinesthetic learning and they found these meeting times meaningful both for professional and for personal interests.

In April we understood that actual international meetings might not happen in frames of our project. So, we stopped waiting and set the date for digital Partner Meeting 2 – April 17,18. Of course, emotionally nobody was enthusiastic about it but we did not see another way. We met two days, 3 hours per day. When we actually met, we felt, that it was a right choice: first of all we were more familiar with the digital platform for communication both verbal and kinesthetic and felt more relaxed about it. Second, we moved on in terms of objectives of the project (thanks to JAMBOARD what Ieva brought in the process). Third we shared ideas and moved together. This gave a little bit of sense about being a team again. We did not manage to implement everything we wanted at these two days, so we agreed to continue partner meeting 2 in a month. Which we did in May 15,16.

Greek team invited partners to join an event they are orgnizing for PEPSAEE youngsters – Bollywood Dancing Party to shake away the negativity and tiredness from the Pandemic. In May 14th they also managed to implement stepping in footprints of other partners and organize movement workshop called ” Puzzle Dance Challenge”.

In May the restrictions loosened a bit and Latvian team came together for 2 days’ residency to move forward with some materials for digital reading material.

Summer 2021

June started with organized online workshop “When Art Meets You” by Greek team about the music element. They used the video with Daniel Wargin ‘s sketches from one of our international weekend meetings at the workshop. Which means that even in darkest times good ideas fly around… if just we are able to observe, listen and appreciate..

In summer we also organized international working groups working on such themes as Kinesthetic Learning, Competency Framework, Digital Reading Material, Visuals of project, Interviews with the Participants. We met online and worked on materials for the digital reading material – about content, structure and shape.

Online dance events seems really working in Greece, so, they organized one more – Bollywood / Hip Hop dance event in the end of June and they were open for us to witness the event as well. Talking about the digital job shadowing as well as about many other good ideas – it stayed good only theoretically. Practically they were not implemented even if proposals (like this one) appeared in the group. This is one of learning outcomes of this Pandemic period – there are many good ideas on paper or in mind which does not mean they should be implemented in reality knowing how busy we are with all our duties. We need to find the right ballance when we addapt some project to the reality. Doing something just because to fulfill something what is written on the paper is not the purpose of this project. It has to be beneficial both for youngsters as well as participants of the project.

At one point there was a hope to have the final meeting in Greece we planed. But soon, in July, it started to be clear that the cases of Covid 19 in Greece increses drastically and the islands start to be locked down again.

Summer was good for the Bulgarian team. Meaning that they could implement two activities for their youngsters “Human and Five Elements” in July and “ Motion – Emotion” in August.

August was good for all of us – few of us (one participant from each country and all Latvian gang) managed to meet in Latvia in frames of job shadowing activity in August 19-23, 2021. It was exciting, motivating and meaningful meeting. It feels that with this meeting we broke the Pandemic inside of us. I mean all the nightmare of Covid 19 still goes on, but it feels, we somehow got back on the track.

What are learning outcomes? First of all:

Do not give up! Nobody promised the journey will be easy. Even the simpliest project can become complicated because of many different reasons. Going through this complicated process opens up the themes of the project (understanding of self, skill of listening and observation, openness as an attitude, value of diversity) in much wider range than if it was sharply organized, running smoothly etc.

Second – kinesthetic learning on digital platform does not quite work as exploration and self awareness for people who have not been practicing movement before. It can be a tool for relaxation and having fun and communication though. There are people who feel more comfortable in digital world but there are people who do not feel comfortable there at all and there should be possibility to choose. Pandemic did not gave this choice. And that was the worst part for me in all this story.

Third – there are many good ideas which theoretically would be possible to implement. But only few of them find ground and get implemented. May be for others it is not time yet.

From Greece… by Sofia Papaspyropouloyu, PEPSAEE

The first workshop of kinesthetic learning (Unfolding) in the framework of the project took place on February 21, 2020 with students of the Experimental Intercultural Athens High School. Although the Kick Off Seminar in Latvia was cancelled, the threat of the Covid-19 disease was still a distant and not very real threat to us. But… one month later, the first lockdown happened in Greece and everything froze. We lost our contact with the school and our target group and we stayed at home feeling numb and useless.

Soon, thanks to P.E.P.S.A.E.E., which is a mental health organisation that had to quickly find ways to keep providing its services to the public, we were back and trying to figure out the best way to keep the project alive· figuratively, inside us, and literally, meaning to find ways to approach our target group or find a new one and keep working on the kinesthetic activities. We knew that we couldn’t give up on our young people the time they needed us the most! We believed that now was exactly the time to show them how to find and use their strengths to overcome adversities and to give them the tools to observe what’s happening inside them, how they react and why and, finally, to understand and control their feelings and be the version of themselves they want to be. Otherwise, we felt that we would fail them and that we wouldn’t be worthy of their trust. Our organisation decided to give online activities a chance, but at that point we couldn’t imagine how to implement kinesthetic activities without being in the same space as the participants.  

Then, RHODES VOLUNTEER COMMUNITY facilitated a pilot online workshop with university students and hope warmed our hearts again. It was a very different experience and gave us a lot of information about the implementation of kinesthetic activities online. As a national group, we still preferred face-to-face meetings with our target groups, though. Meanwhile, we devoted our official-activities-for-the-project time to studying theoretical material on our topic: critical understanding of self, and on creating the Footprints workshop. To do that, we had a few long Zoom meetings, which helped us bond as a team and understand our topic better. We realised how wide it was and how careful and gentle we should be with our participants in order not to be invasive or pushy.

In June 2020, restrictions were being slowly lifted in Greece, so we rushed to meet the principal of the Experimental Intercultural Athens High School to make arrangements for our next workshop. She was thrilled to have us and very cooperative! She informed us about the safety measures that applied to school units and together we figured out the ways to make this second workshop a reality, as participants were very excited after the first one! Of course, we had to make a few adjustments to our activities, give out gloves and make sure participants would have no physical contact with each other. That was the ultimate paradox: in a project that was about connection we had to keep a distance from each other. Nevertheless, we did our best to create exercises that respected the health regulations, but also provided self-awareness stimuli. And the most important for that time: we didn’t forget to have fun with our participants, to help them remember what it’s like to be carefree and playful! We met half of them on June 2 and the other half the next day in their school yard. Some of them were more open towards the exercises and us than before; they felt more comfortable around us. Once again the language and cultural barrier took its toll, but everyone participated in their own way and everybody’s boundaries were respected.

After summer 2020, we contacted the Experimental Intercultural Athens High School again to plan the next workshop, but Covid-19 got there first! There was a case in the class we were working with, so the principal told us that she didn’t know when and if we would be able to work with them again. Suddenly, we were left without a target group! Immediately we started organising back-up plans, but before we had the chance to make calls, a new lockdown was enforced in the country. Once more, we had to work from home and that made the national group communication and cooperation a lot harder. Also, each one of us was trying to meet all our jobs’ and the project’s requirements and that proved a real struggle! We were amazed by the difficulty we had finding mutual free time to meet online, although we were under a strict quarantine, accompanied by extreme limitations! Suddenly, we found ourselves spending most of our time inside the house, but at the same time filling our days with mental or physical activities, leaving absolutely no time and exhausting our tolerance for Zoom meetings and screen time!

During the winter of 2021, we strived to be present as far as the project is concerned. The pandemic started to tire and alienate us from each other. For a while, most of the members of our team were prepossessed by job or family matters and we, also, found it extremely hard to reflect upon our experience, which would give us a better perspective of our position in the project. Nonetheless, we participated in the digital laboratories of kinesthetic learning facilitated by the Latvian team and offered our partners an online workshop (When Art Meets YOU) involving a favourite piece of art and working on our relationship with it. Although time consuming, being part of these online activities with our partners helped us keep a sense that the project was moving forward, reminding us of the responsibility that we had to develop new tools for unprivileged and vulnerable young people that were in need, improving our understanding of our topics and, of course, deepening our relationship with the people forming the other national groups. That last one was very important, especially to the people that hadn’t participated in the First Partners’ meeting in Bulgaria and had established those relationships via Zoom!

And from the absolute struggle to remain active, we jumped into kinesthetic inspiration and workshop planning! Springtime was a busy period for our team! It was like we were reborn, like nature! We started meeting online more frequently to move the project forward and to prepare for the first Digital Partners’ Meeting in April. Thanks to this meeting, the partners’ relationships were repaired and we were all reminded of our mutual goal and, of course, our deadlines! In addition, it gave us the opportunity to talk to each other, learn about each country’s situation and difficulties and reunite as an international team. After that, we felt it was time to follow young people’s habits and to figure out what we can do for their kinesthetic education by using their beloved internet. Thus, we decided to test our skills by facilitating an online workshop (Puzzle Dance Challenge)! That would be our Footprints workshop. For the first time, the two Greek organisations planned and facilitated a workshop together! We were equally involved and supported each other along all the way, because we knew how difficult our attempt would be. We built the sequence of the exercises based on many of our partners’ workshops, not just one, because of the nature of the workshop (online). What is more, we took under consideration many important factors, such as the distance between us and the participants, the probable lack of space and physical presence, the non-physical contact, all significant and substantial factors in kinesthetic learning. Being thankful and with respect towards the participants, we made sure to use only exercises with few and easy instructions, that would be easy to execute by one person alone and at home and we used audio stimuli, such as our voices and music, in the best way we could.

We had 9 participants that totally moved us with the trust they showed to us! All of them had previous experience of online classes, but none of them had ever participated in a similar activity – face-to-face or online. It could be said that we all – facilitators and participants – shared a sense of stress, but also of curiosity about the workshop and the procedure. We – the coordinators of the activities – had planned the exercises very carefully, but no one is capable of predicting the future and we couldn’t know how the participants would react. For that reason, we spent quite a time introducing ourselves and meeting our young people. After that, we gave them information about the project and the procedure we would guide them through. We thought it was of great importance to create a safe environment from the very beginning, be open and available to answer questions and make them feel comfortable. One of the ways we achieved that was the permission to leave their cameras open, but move them or even to switch them off. We also clarified that the workshop didn’t include any form of competition, that they didn’t have to impress anybody and that there were no correct or wrong answers/reactions. The framework set must have been helpful enough for the participants, because they felt free to move off camera and actually work on the things we intended them to. Maybe our expectations weren’t met 100% and our participants were not extravagant during the reflection, but we know we did a good job from their feedback, which came a few days later, and by good job we mean that we gave them food for thought and we introduced them to a new way of experiencing their self, the world and their place in it.                   

We shared our observations with the partners at the second Digital Partners’ Meeting in May. We felt satisfied, relieved and ready to plan our next and last workshop, When Art Meets YOU – The Music Element. That one was planned for June with some of the previous workshop’s participants and a few new ones. Again in this workshop we spent time in the introduction of ourselves, the participants, the project and its goals. It was nice to see familiar faces becoming more loose and relaxed. It meant that those two hours we spent together last month really did the trick! That, also, helped the new ones feel more comfortable and open.

This workshop was more targeted to the self and was planned for people to work absolutely isolated with their favourite piece of music. That meant switching off microphones and no interaction between the participants or with the facilitators. That was a risk we decided to take, but handled it very carefully and watched the process closely so as not to miss any discomfort coming from the exercises. That was one of the most challenging moments throughout the project, since we didn’t know much about our participants and, as a result, we couldn’t know if they were capable of enduring such a lonely journey. The results rewarded us, because, during the reflection, the participants commented positively on the process of the workshop and declared they would happily participate in another one! 

Online workshops were such rich and growing experiences! Priceless! They sharpened our observation skills and raised our flexibility and adaptability. We had a plan in our minds, but it was our participants’ reactions that, in fact, guided us. If we learnt one thing, it is that during online workshops facilitators have to be 100% present and that they can’t afford to miss out on non-verbal information, because the whole experience could end up traumatic for the participants. Of course, that is a very difficult thing to achieve and that is the point where a group of people becomes handy. We had derived our tasks beforehand and everyone knew what they had to do to complete the workshop successfully. After the workshops, we had online meetings to talk about our observations, the things we felt/thought went well and wrong, adjustments or improvements we could make and, last but not least, our feelings, our sense after the workshops. These meetings gave us valuable material to reflect on and to use during our next planning.

Of course, there are many things that still concern us about the online workshops. First of all, the space from which the participants connected to the workshop. Most of the time, it was really hard for them to find a room where they could be alone, without distraction, and that would be spacious enough for them to move freely. Second, movement off camera or with a camera switched off. We could understand the reasons behind this decision and we preferred that to a non-participating person or non-authentic participation, but this choice deprived us of useful information in a situation where we had access to an already decreased amount of data. Especially during our workshop in April, it was with great distress that we watched every move and every facial expression, right because we weren’t at the same location with our participants! Did we miss anything? And, if yes, how much did we miss? And how helpful could we be from a distance should anything happen?

the Key to Connection is implemeneted in the framework of Erasmus+: Youth in Action programme – key action 2, Strategic Partnership for exchange experiences.