In 2016 EFIL’s leading theme for several activities is Building Peaceful Societies. The theme is understood broadly: from re-thinking AFS’ peacebuilding roots and mission, through promoting active involvement in diverse local communities, to working on specific issues linked to conflict resolution and reconciliation in exchanges.

Within the theme of the year, the seminar “Shaping identities – shaping societies” initiated the discussion on today’s role of AFS in building peaceful societies.  The event took place 25-31 January in Piekary (near Krakow), Poland, involving 25 representatives of 15 AFS organisations from the EFIL network.

The main focus of the event was on personal and group identities – their growing complexity and fading connection with geography and ethnicity on one hand, and their role in conflict situations and the mechanisms of “othering” on the other hand. Exploring these topics was additionally enriched by several experiential activities using the Betzavta method, which aims to bring to light dilemmas and conflicts, both in society and in oneself. An important programme element was also a visit to the Auschwitz/Birkenau museum, where many links between past and present were made.

In the last part of the seminar, the group moved on to making recommendations and future plans for AFS, to bring in the project outcomes to practice. The suggestions made included, among others:

– introducing structured reflection on different dimensions of personal identity in all programme and volunteer activities;

– starting with and focus on “myself” and personal reflection to address any wider issues in AFS (with recommended use of the Betzavta method);

– including regular activities in programme orientations and volunteer trainings, which refer to current society issues around us;

– intensifying AFS involvement with other NGOs and in the wider community.

The project was successful largely thanks to the committed and competent preparatory team: Linn Silje Thun (AFS Norway), Emilija Gagrcin (AFS Serbia/Germany/Portugal), Karolina Kania (AFS Poland), Tali Padan (external trainer from Mellem Education), supported by Alexandra Ruivo Cordeiro and Izabela Jurczik-Arnold from EFIL, as well as the very diverse and engaged group of participating volunteers and staff members. Finally, the seminar enjoyed the priceless easy-going support of the hosting organisation, AFS Poland – thank you for making it as smooth as usual!

The project was supported by the European Youth Foundation of the Council of Europe, within the Annual Work Plan support for EFIL.

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