In the aftermath of the most successful summer academy IUC has ever organised, we would like to re-introduce the project, which you can read more about on our webpage, from the perspective of the very people who made Waves of Democracy possible.
What they all have in common is their great sense of duty and willingness to invest personal time and energy, leaving no stone unturned to do the job assigned to them perfectly. And so they did!
One of the people responsible for the smooth running of the event is the wise, witty and well spoken Leise Sandeman. She possesses an intense energy and sparkle which dazzles other people and, despite her young age, carried out the difficult task of leading an entire workshop which I had the chance to personally observe from the front row. What strikes me about Leise is her ability to express herself with extraordinary charm and grace in both speech and writing. Her strong-mindedness and determination as well as frankness and cheerfulness can be gleaned from the following interview, where she reflects on Waves of Democracy and the role she played in its materialisation.
Magdalena: How would you describe Waves of Democracy if you were to present the project to someone who has never heard of it?
Leise: Waves of Democracy is a realisation of the mentality that young people together have the power to shape the future. It harnesses our energy, visions and dreams of developing society on a European level, and aims to constantly challenge your own ideas and narrative.
From across Europe, young people attend a number of workshops and events over the course of an intense week at different locations, aiming to create sustainable solutions to the challenges they themselves face.
For me it is a platform where dialogue, acceptance and intercultural exchange is central but where it is not only about what we want policy makers to do but also about empowering ourselves and young people through civil engagement and local communities.
Waves of Democracy is an example of participative democracy at its finest.
Magdalena: Leise, you led the workshop on migration and asylum policy. Is this your passion? Do you relate personally or was it part of the job? Please elaborate.
Leise: I think that both freedom of movement in the EU as well as the challenges of external migration and refugees pose two of the most important questions for the EU as well as for the European area as a whole to which there are no simple or easy answers. But what is clear to me is that how young people react will play a key role: the challenges related to migration and displacement of people are some all communities face and they are not only solved from a desk or in an office.
How we can increase local and youth empowerment was one of the topics my workshop touched upon and I found it very inspiring to see how this very diverse group of young people discussed this complex issue in a very constructive and forward thinking way.
I have a background as Board Member of the Danish Red Cross Youth and youth engagement and local initiatives are for me at the core of a well functioning society. At a summer conference like WoD the workshop group becomes a microcosm representing the different European narratives and, although it is very difficult, WoD tries to help people create a common European narrative. I do not believe that how individual member states of the European area react to the refugee challenge can be solved unilaterally, what is needed is multilateral action. This is one of the reasons why projects like WoD are so important because it brings people together across borders to think of sustainable solutions for the whole European area and not just for their own communities.
For me this picture captures one of the very relevant discussions that was present in the workshop: are the dreams, wishes and hopes of refugees any different from those of the youth of Europe? In this photo the conclusion is exemplified by the dreams of Syrian Refugees at Sønderborg Asylum Center.
(1) “My dream is to get a degree in English literature and work as a translator.”
(2) “My dream is to complete my post-graduate studies, start a career in nano-science, and start a family with my fiancée.”
(3) “My dream is to work at a large international company, and to have time to play tennis and read a lot.”
Magdalena: Is teaching something you feel comfortable with? What was the feeling of being able to engage with such a big group of young people who looked up to you as their mentor?
Leise: I think the strength of Waves of Democracy is that it is not built around a workshop moderators. Waves of Democracy is a chance for young people to work with the knowledge they have, whether that is gained from university or shaped by the national media. When everyone realises that the moderator does not sit with ‘ready-made’ answers, the dynamic of the group changes and the moderator becomes someone who helps everyone stay on the right track and challenges the ideas of the group.
I enjoyed being a part of the organising team setting up the structure for such a dialogue and I highly appreciated the discussions and debate in my workshop.
Magdalena: Can you elaborate on the planning phase; on all that behind-the-scenes work in preparation for the grand opening?
Leise: Planning a summer academy of the size of Waves of Democracy takes months of preparation as well as hard work during the conference itself. Nina, Andreas and Christin had been working on the academy for months in cooperation with Sønderborg kommune and other collaborators. My main workload as an organiser was during the week of Waves organising and structuring the workshop in cooperation with the two other workshop moderators. At a project of this size there will always be practical challenges during the week no matter how well planed it is, and these also take up a fair amount of time during a week like this.
It means lots of late nights and a lot of coffee, but when you are a part of a team where everyone works towards making the project succeed, it is just part of the fun.
Magdalena: What was the highlight for you of the entire project?
Leise: My highlight of the project was the visit to the Asylum Center for Syrian refugees in Sønderborg.
I had a real sense that that we began our visit as a group of young Europeans meeting a group of young Syrian refugees, but as the conversation developed and the days went by (the young asylum seekers joined us on several occasions in Sønderborg after the visit) the line blurred and the experience of people at the conference overcoming those initial differences.
This is for me an important part of Waves of Democracy. We need to look past differences and see the opportunities multicultural cooperation has to offer.
Another person who saw this project through to completion is Tyler Adkins – an articulate speaker who has presence and projects confidence, always aflame with creative vision. Despite being burdened with a heavy load of chores, Tyler took some time to answer a few of my questions and elaborate on his participation as one of the lead figures in WoD.