#DecodingMedia Camp: 21. – 28. August, Synevyrs’ka Polyana, Ukraine

#DecodingMedia Camps – The Project – Co-Funded by the Erasmus+ Program of the European Union

Young people in Germany, Ukraine and Russia are getting more exposed to radicalisation as the outcome of the tense geopolitical situation between the countries, the general trend of re-discovery of nationalism in Europe and the rise of fake news globally. Media outlets especially contribute to this process, using negative narratives to confuse and polarise young minds. The partner consortium of CGE Erfurt e.V., NGO “Enlightening Initiative” and social initiative “Academy of Innovation” have particularly realised that after evaluating the participants’ responses from another common Erasmus+ project “We are the Peacemakers!”. 

Therefore, to combat the overwhelming tendency of media influence on youth, the partners’ organisations, after consulting with the group leaders, propose a series of media camps for young people to train their critical thinking in decoding media algorithms behind screaming headlines, catching posters or dubious articles/post on the Internet.

The idea of #DecodingMedia Camps strongly correlates with the recent developments in the youth policy on the EU level. As the outcome of the 6th cycle of the EU Youth Dialogue “Youth in Europe: What’s next?”, which was carried out to contribute to the renewed EU Youth Strategy for 2019-2027 “Engaging, Connecting and Empowering young people”, the European Commission came out with 11 European Youth Goals, among which is “Information & Constructive Dialogue”. In regards to that, the German National Agency in its annual priorities also committed to prioritise projects, contributing to the development of media competences and critical thinking of young people. Therefore, we believe that #DecodingMedia Camps are linked to the objectives of the Erasmus+ program and will foster a culture of critical thinking and allow a coherent dialogue between German, Ukrainian and Russian youth.

The #DecodingMedia Camps project comprises of three youth exchanges, taking place in Germany, Russia and Ukraine over the next 15 months. Through the interactive non-formal learning methodology the participants will critically examine the traditional and new media as tools for fighting prejudices, xenophobia and hate speech, as well as improve their own understanding of the creative potential of media as devices in promoting European awareness.

The overall project aims:

  • to help young people clearly understand the role of media in today’s world;
  • to assist youngsters in developing their critical and analytical thinking capabilities in the post-truth era;
  • to promote pluralism, freedom of press and freedom of expression;
  • to address the issue of hate speech online between the participating countries
  • to combat populism, radicalisation/extremism, censorship and propaganda in Germany, Ukraine and Russia;
  • to encourage youth to critically analyse current national and EU affairs;
  • to empower youngsters to create their own independent media outlets/products and further promote critical thinking among their peers;
  • to create intercultural learning moments among the participants and between them;
  • to enhance participants´ ICT skills.

 More than once the Commission has emphasised, that “the ability to judge the true merit of media content and make conscious choices – or ‘media literacy’ – becomes ever more essential for active citizenship and democracy”. In the current times of ubiquitous political propaganda, fake news and public opinion manipulation, we need our young people to stay strong and keep being engaged in public and political life, protecting the democratic values Europe represents. That is why #DecodingMedia camps being able to see the information for what it is, is one of the key competences in the XXI century.

The Synevyrs’ka Polyana, Ukraine Media Camp 21. – 28. August 2021

27 young people with diverse backgrounds, from Ukraine and Germany, connected with each other over a week-long youth exchange in Synevyrs’ka Polyana, Ukraine as the second Decoding Media Camp of this project trio. Synevyrs’ka Polyana is three hours from Lviv and deep within the heights of the Transcarpathian mountain, just next to Synevyr lake.

This location was chosen as an opportunity to use the surrounding landscape as a pedagogical tool to support the theme of this camp: Media Literacy, Mindfulness and Emotion. The lake, the forest and the mountains were frequently used as reflection and mindfulness tools.

Day One: Teambuilding & Self-Discovery

Having arrived in Synevyrs’ka Polyana, the 25 participants began building trust and their sense of team. Aksed “what is the story behind your shoes?”, participants shared a bit of their life context with the group before jumping into collaborative challenges drawn from our LABRINT outdoor education training guide.

In the afternoon, we walked into the wilderness in rotating pairs, with a list of questions to discuss and explore together such as:

  • What is a Good Life to you?
  • What different types of People bring meaning to your life? 
  • Which places give you different emotions  
  • How do you connect your values with the Products you buy and consume 
  • What are some powerful Feelings you have felt recently 
  • What rituals / Processes / Rhythms / are present in your life and what do they mean? 
  • What are the Values you want to live by? 

Reaching our destination at an isolated spot, the group sat down and reflected on the questions, particularly on the role of our values and emotions in our consumption of products and media.

Day Two: Mountain Hike

Seeing a chance with the good weather, all participants set off on a hike up past Synevyr Lake to the peak of a mountain, over 1000m high. Combining mindful walking with group reflection and collaborative activities such as fire-making, water-finding and load-sharing, this activity also helped participants dive deeper into self-reflection and into building the team dynamic. Throughout the hike we also collected over five bags of rubbish, determined to leave the countryside more pristine than we found it.

Day Three: 

The morning began with a group yoga session, before a long reflection on the mountain adventure the day before. A deeper theoretical background to mindfulness was given before journals were distributed to each participant and a guided reflection on the mountain hike, people’s sense of identity, their consumption of media and the role of emotion within their media consumption.

This was followed by collaborative art reflection. After lunch, we held a deep dive into the role of social media within our social relations and within our construction of personal identity. Participants reflected individually and as a group, using non-formal methods as well as formal input.

This day was also Ukrainian National Day, and 30 years since Ukraine’s independence. This was an opportunity to reflect on the role of national identity within our lives and personal identity, and how this shapes our interaction with media that draws on national identity, as well as to explore Ukrainian culture and heritage through a performance developed by our Ukrainian participants.

Day Four: 

Following another morning yoga session, participants wrote letters to their future selves. Use the media form of writing a letter, a media form that contrasts the immediate nature of many of the other forms of media people typically engage with in the contemporary world. This session was supported by input on the physiology of happiness to help people reflect on what makes them happy as they wrote to their future self

Having discovered an invitation from the “spirits of Synevyr Lake”, we held a reflection evening a the riverside in the forest. We developed music for the reflection session and took the time to be mindful and reflect on the group identity that had emerged.  

Day Five:
Our final day began with an open workshop session, with participants bringing their expertise to the table! We had sessions on social media, on digital security, on the concept of love languages, and even on drone piloting. Before gathering for a final reflection on media, identity, emotion and the project.

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