One of the central aspects of the EU-LAC Museums and Community project involved a bi-regional youth exchange between Costa Rica, Scotland, and Portugal.
The initiative was organised by the University of St Andrews, and led by Jamie Allan Brown (University of St Andrews, Scotland), Paula Menino Homem (Universidade do Porto, Portugal), and Ronald Martínez Villarreal (Museo Nacional de Costa Rica, Costa Rica), and supported by Karen Brown (University of St Andrews), Teresa Morales, John Large, and the Red de Museos Comunitarios de America Network.
This article will provide an outline of the vision behind the exchange, preparatory workshops, and reflections for the future.
Following a rigorous application process (involving producing a video, assessed group work, and a comprehensive written element), 24 young people were selected*: 12 from Costa Rica, 6 from Portugal, and 6 from Scotland.
Before the inter-regional travels made by the young people, a series of monthly workshops began in December 2016 and focused upon rural community, identity, heritage, and culture. In between workshops, participants were encouraged to visit their local community museums and to document their thoughts and experiences before, during, and after the exchange through an online blog and Instagram.
The key aims of the youth project were “to promote the Horizon2020 goal of fostering inclusive, innovative and reflective societies” by:
- Empowering each young person to learn more about their own community through museums, language, identity, heritage, and culture and comparing the similarities with the other communities involved;
- Instilling confidence in each young person to take an active role within their individual communities;
- Encouraging each young person to reflect and document their journey.
Following the guidance of EU-LAC-MUSEUMS Project Advisor Teresa Morales, the exchange followed the “Our Vision of Change” programme created by the Union of Community Museums of Oaxaca, Mexico, and expanded over more than 30 years to other countries through the Red de Museos Comunitarios de America Network.
“Our Vision of Change” has been implemented throughout Costa Rica through the Costa Rican Red de Museos Comunitarios, with support from the regional network, while Portugal and Scotland opted to use the programme as a model, interpreting it within their own contexts. This methodology not only guided the development of work with young people over more than two years of monthly sessions, but also served as the basis for some of the activities during the exchange itself.
In reflection workshops, young people acknowledged that blogging offered an opportunity to boost their creativity through thinking critically about what they wrote and how they presented themselves online. A particularly poignant example was written by the youth group participant, Jonathan Smith, from the Isle of Skye:
“Though many miles lie between them and us we all are brought together through our shared passion for music, dance, art and community spirit. The exchange changed me as a person in so many ways. It made me proud of my island background, improved my confidence and gave me skills which will stay with me forever. […] If I was to bring anything back to Skye it would the sense of community and belonging which I experienced within the villages. All the people, young and old, work together with respect for each other to get things done. […] They are all proud of their local culture and I felt so honoured to have been able to learn the history of the people and to also share our culture with them.”
Bringing these young people together fostered new ideas, discussions, and friendships that would not normally be possible, and spread a message about the efficacies of bi-regional collaboration for sustainable communities. It has also enhanced the participants’ technical and organisational abilities, evaluation and research methods, the ability to work alongside individuals from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, and resilience in the face of change. Through continuous collaboration, these skills extended to supervisors, facilitators and volunteers, elders and leaders of the local communities, local authorities, and local secondary, vocational, and artistic schools.
As further testified in the Youth Exchange Experiences Booklet, EU-LAC Museums is firmly committed to the idea that societal challenges can only be overcome by beginning with individual lives, and that mutual understanding between our regions can and will come about through building positive and sustainable relationships.
The role of intangible cultural heritage in community museums and ecomuseums is vital to this process. By involving young people in the recovery and recording of oral histories, culture, migration stories, and music, individuals can gain not only a sense of belonging to a specific place, but are also given the tools and skills to participate and enhance the communities in which they live and to connect with and learn from others.
*The Scottish Youth Exchange Programme operated within the rural island of the Isle of Skye in the north west of Scotland, selected in part because it is home to Scotland’s first ecomuseum; Ceumannan (re-named Druim Nan Linntean in 2019). Monthly workshops were facilitated in partnership with the Staffin Community Trust, The Skye Ecomuseum, Comunn na Gàidhlig (CnaG), Aros Centre Portree and Portree High School. The young people taking part are representative from across the island, bi-lingual speaking both Scottish Gaelic and English.
*Overseen by the National Museum of Archaeology in Lisbon, the Portuguese Youth Exchange Programme operated within the rural communities of Barcelos, Penafiel and São João da Madeira near Portugal’s second major city Porto. Monthly workshops were facilitated by the Universidade do Porto Master students working in partnership with Barcelos Pottery Museum, Penafiel Municipal Museum and S. João da Madeira Hat Museum.
*The Costa Rican Youth Exchange Programme operated within the indigenous village communities of Boruca, Rey Curré and San Vincente. Monthly workshops were facilitated by the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica working in partnership with Red de Museos Comunitarios de América and the local community museums and their facilitators trained by the Red de Museos Comunitarios de America of each village. The young people taking part are representative from across the villages.
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 693669.