„YMCA Europe is a working fellowship to strengthen movements where people grow in body, mind and spirit.“

Where West Meets East

2nd November 2012

Every second year YMCA Europe holds its Catch the Vision conferences in places, where exposure to the context becomes an important part of these events’ logic - Balkans, Caucasus, Middle East.

Catch the Vision Conference - Where West Meets East (group photo)

This time it took place in Istanbul (October 15 – 20). ‘Where West Meets East’ was the motto of this Catch the Vision conference. It enrolled 52 participants, facilitators and guest speakers from 24 countries, with geographical coverage ranging from Iceland to South Africa, from Canada to Russia. The key educational modules of the event were as follows:

  • 1. Youth Empowerment, incl. introduction to the YMCA ‘Agents of Change’ model.
  • 2. Intercultural Learning
  • 3. ‘Do No Harm’ as a Conflict / Diversity Sensitive Methodology
  • 4. Change Assessment

Not accidentally the mottoes of the YMCA Europe Catch the Vision conferences live longer than the events hold under them. Like the motto of the event held in Prizren, Kosovo (2004) gave the name of the YMCA Europe long-term and large-scale initiative - ’Roots for Reconciliation’. Who knows, maybe soon we’ll hear about ‘Where West Meets East’ as another example!

Yet this conference was a bridging event for the YMCA Europe Peace Work Institute within the ‘Roots for Reconciliation’ project. It served as the first session within this series, and most of the participants are expected to continue with the second and third sessions in 2013, and consequent projects in the field (2014) to be followed by a reunion (2015) to evaluate the results of the overall scheme.

Catch the Vision Conference - Where West Meets East (YMCA sign)

Big plans, but as the saying goes ‘good beginning is half of the success’. We definitely had a very good beginning in Istanbul!

When I was asked to write and capture the event from a conference in Istanbul I felt very proud and slightly worried that my words would not do justice to the entire experience. During the week we had been exposed to a new culture, visited a different continent while being in the same country, used the Turkish YMCA with its rich history and unique look, had been treated to traditional music and dance, been exposed to the tourist and the religious side of the city, been blown away by the beautiful spinning Derbyshire’s and met some inspiring and thought provoking leaders and people from our movement. I couldn’t write everything in this one testimony but i would like to share with you two very different but special events.

During a cultural day we got to visit an outdoor model museum and soak up the countries amazing history in many languages, breathtaking sights adorned both sides of the river as we sailed around Istanbul and when we stepped off the boat into Asia there was a shared understanding of this is truly where East meets West. Our Turkish friends and Haluk especially spoiled us, that evening over Turkish food we were blown away by the meditating Derbyshire’s, who were a total contrast from the shop owners and were wearing beautiful white traditional robes, a young lady belly dancing and traditional music which got the entire conference up on its feet led by Haluk and Juan. As an awkwardly clapping English man I could only marvel and clap along as Dorina (Kosovo) and Vicktor (Macedonia) showed us amazing rhythm and traditional dance from the Eastern side of Europe. What made the evening even more special for me was sitting with my new friend Musa from Turkey who explained everything to our table and was so welcoming and open that you just felt part of the whole experience and watching Haluk who was so proud and encouraging everyone to join in. It was truly an amazing evening and something that will stay with me forever.

Tea PartyNow the English contingent had prepared for a cultural night, and between us we had each brought something that would contribute to a traditional “English tea party” The program changed and the cultural evening was taken out, but after a evening of games at the Turkish YMCA led and organised by Basti (Germany) a large group sat in the street socializing. Rachel and I decided this was a great time for a tea party and set about making tea in a traditional English Teapot for all our friends. Picture this... Participants from Germany, England, Georgia, Turkey, Czech Republic, Russia, Holland, Kosovo and Armenia all sat in the streets of Istanbul drinking tea in bright white cups, eating short bread biscuits and discussing whether to have milk in their tea or should they drink it with their little finger extended out. The queen would have been truly proud of this moment!

For me it was so special that we were invited to join in and experience the Turkish culture but also equally as special to share a taste of England and some Western culture with our new friends. We donated the teapot to Haluk and the Turkish YMCA to thank them for their kindness and hospitality. What I truly learned from this conference... East or West, Europe or Asia, English tea or Turkish coffee... it did not matter because together we are YMCA!

Adrian from YMCA England (28 yo)

For more insights please visit YMCA Europe Roots for Reconciliation Facebook page

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Author/Source: Vardan Hambardzumyan (YMCA Europe Executive Secretary)