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The youth exchange “Climate change? No, change yourself!” was held between Sunday 4 September 2022 and Monday 12 September 2022 in the village of Arrouquelas, Rio Maior, Portugal. The purpose of this exchange was to connect 60 different youths from 10 different European countries with the aim to share environmental-friendly best practices and sustainable environmental solutions. Apart from 6 Maltese participants McAlister Azzopardi, Phoebe Pisani Debono, Kelly Azzopard, Kylie Ciantar, Jessica Grech and Jonathan Scicluna, the training course also included other youths from Czech Republic, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, Estonia and Latvia. The youth exchange was hosted by H2O - Associação de Jovens de Arrouquelas in Arrouquelas.
Upon arrival, the participants had an ice-breaking session to get to know each other. The participants were each handed a paper which consisted in several questions such as ‘likes to travel’, ‘likes sweets’, ‘has a pet’, ‘attended more than 1 Erasmus training course’, ‘has orange hair’, ‘has blue eyes’, etc. The participants then had to put a name of another participant next to each question. The first participant to fill all the boxes would win the game. On that same day, the participants also went to a forest close to the village to see the different work that the organisation had carried out over the years with the help of the different volunteers. The leader also showed the participants a watch-out tower that was usually guarded by one of the volunteers. The purpose of this tower is to serve as a watch-out post so that the volunteer on duty that day can quickly call the local firefighters in case they spot a forest fire. After that walk, the participants also had a treasure hunt around the village to get to know the area better and get accustomed to their surroundings.
During this student exchange the youths participated in a number of activities such as environmental workshops between themselves and with local NGOs, were accommodated in camps, went canoeing in a river close by to see first-hand the devastating effects of climate change and planted trees in order to promote afforestation. The leader also gave the participants an opportunity to organise different workshops as long as the activity organised was interactive, inclusive and fun. Due to this, the participants came up with the idea to organise a shadow play. On one of the nights, the participants held a number of shadow plays such as snow white and the 7 dwarfs including others.
Besides these different activities held during this student exchange, the leader always showed the interest that the group organises a flashmob. Due to this, some of the participants created the choreograph and just before dinner the participants would practice the moves as a group. The intention behind this was for the entire group to perform this dance on the beach in Nazaré on the last day of this student exchange.
Another activity that the leader planned for this student exchange was grape harvesting. At the time of the youth exchange, the grapes were at their right acidity and ripeness for harvesting. The leader teamed up with a local winery and offered the participants the opportunity to harvest grapes and later in the day press the same grapes by feet. As part of this activity, the owner of the local winery also prepared a barbeque for the participants to show his appreciation. During this activity the participants were also shadowed by the more experienced employees of the winery to ensure that the grapes were being harvested as intended. Although this activity was tiring, as a result of long hours under the scorching Portuguese sun, the participants all seemed satisfied of what they have achieved during those 4 hours.
The Maltese night was held on the day before the last of this student exchange. The Maltese participants opted not for the usual Twistees and the classic beer can but wanted to prepare the food fresh. It did come to a surprise for everyone on what the Maltese team managed to achieve in a relatively short time. Kelly with the help of the Maltese participants prepared typical ‘hobz biz-zejt’, two dishes of mouth-watering baked pasta and typical Maltese sweets known as Imqaret (date filled pastry). The Maltese night was not only a huge success for Kelly who with a lot of patience ensured that the food she was preparing tasted authentic but was also probably one of the highlights of the traditional nights.
During the last day of the training course the participants spent their last day in Nazaré. Nazaré is a Portuguese town and municipality located in the Oeste region, in the historical province of Estremadura, and in the Leiria District. The municipality has a population of around 10,000 inhabitants and is mostly famous as a surfing destination because of the very high breaking waves that form due to the presence of the underwater Nazaré Canyon. Just before they left, the participants performed the flashmob that wowed all the passers-by. Given that this was the last day of the student exchange the participants all had to face reality and felt very heartbroken knowing that in a few hours all of them would be on their way back home.