Meeting at eye level

The ENSA exchange programme is creating new ways for pupils from different countries to learn from one another in a glob­alising world. It puts young Germans in the same classroom as young Africans for example.

By Christine Blome and Claudia Schilling

Juliane Bär has assembled a piece of artwork and posts it on the wall. It includes maps of Europe and Africa, marking the route from Togo to Germany in impressive black. Next to the maps, she has glued a picture of a roller coaster. The writing above states: “Togo 2007 until †”. Togo until death? The pupil from the Friedrich Stoy grammar school in Falkenberg, Brandenburg, explains what she means: “In Togo, my old life ended and a new one began. Who am I? Who do I want to be? Where do I belong? Togo raised all of these questions but also pointed in the direction of the answers. So my Togo experience that started in 2007 is not over.”

Bär’s trip to Togo was funded by the German exchange programme ENSA. The acronym stands for “Entwicklungspolitisches Schulaustauschprogramm” (development-related school exchange). This year, ENSA will support a total of 24 school events of this kind. In Benin, boys and girls from both countries were taught about children’s rights. Youngsters from Bangladesh discussed poverty and social injustice in Frei­­burg. Young people from Brazil, Bosnia, South Africa and Germany were trained as peer leaders, who raise awareness among others in their age group.

ENSA was created to fill a gap. In 2002, members of the Social Democrats and the Greens – the two parties formed a coalition government at the time – pointed out to the Bundestag that there was no support for youth programmes pertaining to development issues. Accordingly, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) asked the ASA Programme of ­InWEnt (which has since become part of GIZ) to design a scheme. ASA has been facilitating the exchange of students and young professionals from developed and developing countries since the 1960s. The idea is to make young people understand what life is like in other parts of the world so they will be aware of global ­issues in the long run.

Building bridges

Shortly before the 2006 Football World Cup in Germany, a pilot project entitled “The other side of the field” was launched. Pupils from German schools visited five street football projects in Brazil, Peru, Senegal and South Africa. The young people made friends on the pitch, went to school with their new friends, experienced their family life and helped out in volunteer work. They were exposed to new experiences, some of which were pleasant while others were shocking. “It was fascinating to experience these things and grow personally,” a youngster recalls.

In 2006, the trial phase of ENSA began. In one of the first projects, German carpentry apprentices cooperated with their peers in Mozambique, making tables and sewing clothes. Sharing skills ensured that the two parties met eye to eye. In a subsequent exchange, pupils from Bangladesh visited Spreewald to look into what happens when water is treated as an economic commodity. In the fall of 2007, the BMZ decided to make ENSA a permanent programme. So far, ENSA has supported some 150 school ­exchanges. Since 2012, ENGAGEMENT GLOBAL has been in charge of ENSA.

Most exchange programmes of ENSA’s kind do not include pupils from developing countries visiting their counterparts. Typically, these schemes only organise trips in the North-South direction. Accordingly, only very few young people from developing countries have any opportunity to visit an advanced nation.

That is what makes ENSA special. ENSA gives both sides roughly the same opportunities to travel. About half of the projects take place in Germany and the other half in a partner country. Moreover, ENSA emphasises educational goals such as dispelling prejudice or promoting active cooperation. ENSA workshops tackle topics like teamwork, conflict resolution, social diversity and racism.

Well prepared ­partners

When schools from the rich North and the poor South meet, many questions arise, even for ENSA advisors. Can both groups really meet eye to eye? How does one ensure that the foreign partners will properly prepare for the event and do all the follow-up work required? And what about youngsters from disadvantaged social backgrounds? Do they have any chance of taking part in a development-related school exchange?

That the programme was designed in Germany and most of the financial support comes from this country’s government obviously makes it more difficult to meet at eye level. ENSA therefore asks applicants right from the start what they will do to make the partnership as equal as possible. In preparatory seminars, the programme raises awareness of power relations in society as well as the conse­quences of colonialism and globalisation. A PR manual helps participants and event organisers to share their experience in blogs and public workshops without reproducing stereotypes. ENSA wants partner schools to cooperate in the long run, not only once.

ENSA is active in many parts of the world, and life is different everywhere. It is challenging to support pupils, teachers and non-governmental activists in such diverse settings. There are no generic answers to many relevant questions, including the following:
– What impact does long-term exchange have on the participating schools and their environment, especially in developing countries?
– Which requirements have to be met in both countries for learning and personal encounters to bear fruit and not discriminate against anyone involved?
– What pedagogical tools are missing and in what ways must the social environment improve?

The ENSA management, moreover, considers reaching out to German youths from disadvantaged social strata an important challenge. In 2012, more than half of all ENSA applications were from grammar schools and other high schools that prepare youngsters for college; only 10 % were from schools that lay the foundations for vocational training. Accordingly, the ENSA management will focus especially on schools that train and educate disadvantaged young people in the 2013 application round.

A promising start is the partnership between the Christopherus School in Bonn and the Centre El Mayin in Djerba, Tunisia. Both schools specialise in children with disabilities, for whom travel is often practically impossible. In the past, youths like them never took part in development-related ­exchanges because international programmes simply neglected them. ENSA has made a difference by promoting the Bonn-Djerba partnership since 2006. The Tunisian partners’ most recent visit to Berlin was in 2011 (see interview with Rabiaa Ouermini in D+C/E+Z 2012/06, p. 252 f.).

Three years ago, the Bonn-Djerba exchange won the Special NGO Prize in school contest run by Germany’s federal president. The jury praised this particular programme for proving “that a successful North-South partnership does not depend on intellectual prowess and knowledge, but can simply be based on people from similar backgrounds meeting”.

Proven effects

In a tracking study last year, 86 % of the surveyed said that ENSA had motivated them to become involved in development issues. Three quarters of the participants said they felt “better qualified” for doing so thanks to their stay abroad. After the school exchange, many participants continued to stay keenly aware of issues such as poverty, social justice, the impacts of climate change as well as racism and colonial history.

ENSA is designed for high school pupils and vocational school students aged 15 to 24. German schools, parent organisations and non-governmental organisations that work with schools can apply to take part if they have established a partnership in a foreign country. Applications must be submitted between June and September for the following year. Those who receive support get 70 % of their flight costs ­reimbursed plus a daily allowance of € 15 euros for two weeks at most. Related seminars take place before and after the exchange.

ENSA results in friendships that last for years, based on people personally understanding living conditions that are different from their own. At the same time, the participants experience that they can personally make a difference in the world. It must be admitted, however, that interest and commitment tend to decline in the long run after pupils leave their schools. The ENSA management is therefore considering new approaches to keep former participants involved even ­after they graduate.

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