Sharing & Shaping (Y)Our World: Our Experiences at the Inaugural We Grow Together Youth Summer Camp 

Earth Charter International together with ONE WORLD Citizens were able to bring together a group of 45 young participants (ages 16-30) from 22 different homelands for the first edition of the We Grow Together summer camp in The Netherlands. These motivated youth were brought together by partner organizations from eight different countries, including Earth Charter Worldconnectors, Green Cross Sweden, ManEco Bulgaria, Boris Divković Foundation Bosnia-Herzegovina, Young Entrepreneurs Albania, Fridays for Futures France, Ökumenische Initiative Eine Welt Germany, and East Europe Foundation Ukraine. Our core team in charge of applying for the funding and coordinating the logistics was led by Ms. Monique van Dam from ONE WORLD Citizens and Ms. Ann Cathrin Nachtwey, who contributed to this project as part of her Windesheim Honours College internship at ECI in addition to being personally motivated to making this dream a reality. The core team also included Chloé Bernardino, Cameron Camillo, and myself, Amanda Bennett. This youth summer camp was possible largely thanks to funding from the Dutch Erasmus Plus Agency and the European Commission. 

Of this group, 8 participants were Earth Charter Young Leaders (ECYL), namely Cameron Camillo (France), Chloé Bernardino (France), Toos Töben (Netherlands), Ann Cathrin Nachtwey (Germany), Valeria Santos (Venezuela), Valeria Medrano (Costa Rica), Evon Ganeson (Malaysia), and Victor Ayegba Mathew (Nigeria, online). I accompanied them as part of my work as ECI’s Youth Programme Coordinator.  

The purpose of creating this new network was to have participants co-create a summer camp where they could have important discussions related to urgent issues for present and future generations, collaborate on creating content about these key topics, and come up with concrete action plans for continued collaboration. European participants also worked towards an Erasmus+ Youthpass certification. One of the unique aspects of this experience was the engagement of youth in the planning, implementing and facilitating sessions before, during, and after the in-person summer camp. For example, before meeting each other, a small group of participants volunteered to plan the virtual Kickoff event, during which we saw each other for the first time to combine our interests to come up with 11 themes that would guide our work together and inspire future project collaborations. A work lab group was also formed, with volunteers who did some research and prepared the sessions for our intergenerational dialogue event day with special guests.  

We first came together under three important frameworks: The Earth Charter, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the European Youth Goals. To combine these based on our group’s interests, we met virtually a month before the summer camp started, for our Kickoff event, to brainstorm and collectively choose our 11 most pressing themes, which included: 

  1. Education
  2. Community building and learning
  3. Participatory democracy
  4. Peace and justice (institutions)
  5. Sustainable cities
  6. Transportation
  7. Climate change and action
  8. Environmental pollution
  9. Conscious consumerism
  10. Faith and spirituality
  11. New narratives

“One of my favorite parts about the We Grow Together Camp was the intercultural exchange in regards of sustainability topics. Although we come from different countries, we are all facing the consequences of a system based on an outdated worldview and as youth, we feel deeply the need to change. Values, ethics, and education were key elements present in every solution we talked about during the camp. I learned through the conversations I had that there won’t be a key solution for all, instead the diversity of solutions is what is going to make us stronger and, that these solutions must be rooted in the identities and cultures of the people living in the places where they will be implemented. Sustainability must be shaped by our identities and cultures to be really transformative and regenerative of our ways of inhabiting the Earth.” – Valeria Medrano, ECYL from Costa Rica 

The We Grow Together summer camp followed a full 7-day programme, which was preceded by a Masterclass on filmmaking for some of the participants who joined 3 days before the rest of us arrived. Once all the participants found their way to Bunnik in the Netherlands, the activities kicked off with presentations to get to know each other. The first day also included a workshop around the question of what real social progress looks like to us, facilitated by Finn van Ijssel, a young film director, and his friends. Later that evening, the group gathered for a presentation led by Earth Charter Young Leaders, during which we explained how the EC youth network has been turning conscience into action and did a short exercise to think about solutions to global issues related to the Earth Charter principles and by considering different perspectives, including opposing viewpoints, the perspective of other forms of life, and those of future generations.  

The second day, the group participated in an “Ego to Eco” workshop facilitated by Lavinia Warnars and Frank Lauterslager. The same day, later in the evening, the team learned about the concept of Ubuntu, introduced by Augustine Lenamoe and Pradeep Sapkota. Before closing the day, Monique van Dam shared her ideas and aspirations for the Living Legends School and community network. 

“Diversity among the participants allowed a true dialogue – an open space for opinions shaped by the different backgrounds and stories everyone carries within them. But diversity was not only evident in the educational activities, it also painted a vibrant atmosphere every day with our morning coffee talk and in the hallways during the breaks. Narratives from different places of the world, some very remote and some very well known, from artists to engineers, our stories enriched the camp and nurtured a sense of unity and a shared purpose despite age, background, and borders.” – Valeria Santos, ECYL from Venezuela 

“The summer camp was a place to share considerations to create a better world, indirectly underlining the importance of functional governance. An Iranian living in the Netherlands and six participants from Bosnia-Herzegovina underlined this point. Although their aspirations to change their society are apparent, political complexities hamper their efforts. The descriptions they shared of the political structure underlined the need for functional, freedom-preserving institutions if we are to take action on climate change. This global problem requires governance that promotes unity, transparency, and individual expression.” – Cameron Camillo, ECYL from France 

The 48-hour filmmaking challenge officially kicked off during the second evening of the programme. Participants worked together in groups organized under the 11 pre-selected themes and used their smartphones, imagination, and creativity to turn storylines into short films. It was interesting and inspiring to see how interconnected ideas were, but also how different each film turned out. On the fourth evening of the summer camp, we gathered around after a full day of filming and editing to watch each group’s short movie. Even though we were all tired already, the excitement of sharing the final outcomes awakened the community until almost midnight, when votes were counted, and awards categories and winners announced. 

“One of the standout activities at the camp was the 48-hour video challenge. Participants were divided into teams, each tasked with crafting a compelling video on their assigned theme. However, as anyone who’s ever worked in a group project knows, assembling a team of individuals with diverse personalities can be both a rewarding and challenging endeavor. What marked the turning point on the first day of the 48-hour challenge was a shift in approach. The team delved into deep conversations, asking probing questions to truly connect on a personal level. This was a critical lesson in empathy – understanding that each member had a unique story to tell, and by unraveling these stories, bonds were formed and the revealing of their sustainable identity.  

In the end, the success of the video was not just a personal victory for each team member, but a testament to our combined strengths. We found inspiration in each other, respected one another’s differences, and united under the banner of the Earth Charter Principles. Compassion, communication, and collaboration emerged as the driving forces behind this act of change.” – Evon Ganeson, ECYL from Malaysia 

The next day, we set off for a new location as the larger group went to Campus Landgoed Zonheuvel for a beautifully-planned nature experience day. There, they met youth from the Dancing with Trees project, which includes an art installation where you can hear trees communicate and interact with each other. This was a special edition since Bo Lagrand, the artist coordinating the project, asked some of the WGT summer camp participants to record their voices, so we contributed to an English version.  

In addition, participants also looked at other stations that included venturing through the Zonheuvel estate to explore a workshop station on soil and its importance to ecosystems, led by participant and environmental expert Yoana Doneva from Bulgaria. Another station was led by resident experts on wood building; it showed tree house constructions as a means to reconnect with nature, and introduced participant groups to ladders and pathways up the giant trees to eventually swing in the wind with them. At the entry point of the rally, agriculture and ICT experts Pradeep and Augustine (from Nepal and Kenya respectively) looked more closely at concrete local development projects and reviewed their personal experience and learnings. The important issue of land use all over the world was discussed in both positive and negative ways. To address the importance of human-nature interaction, the final Station, led by Alice and Svenja (participants from France and Germany respectively) had the theme of perception. This included a forest walk on bare feet, meditation exercises, as well as the special activity “seeing as nature would”. After having experienced the different stations, the groups gathered once more to debrief and share highlights as well as feedback. This was then followed by a walk through the thick forest to arrive back at Bunnik.  

This day, Earth Charter Young Leaders who were attending the summer camp took advantage of being in the same city at the same time to meet with Mr. Paul Lubbers, member of the ECI Board and Council, to reflect on their experiences as ECYL and share their vision for how we would like the ECYL programme to continue growing and evolving.  

On Day 6, we woke up early and traveled again to Zonheuvel for the highly anticipated Intergenerational Dialogue Event Day under the theme: “What does real social progress look like, for you individually & for us as a Global community?”. This day was planned by the Dialogue Event team and WGT Work Lab, and involved all summer camp participants, 20 youth guests, and 22 sustainability experts. With years of experience in decision-making and the motivation to engage in a participatory exchange of thoughts and ideas, new narratives emerged, and project plans unfold. For this special day, Ann Cathrin and Chloé created a New Narrative Canvas which helped the groups turn their visions into action. As a result, by the end of the day, each team presented a creative project idea to foster long-term collaboration and co-creation. If you would like to see how these projects evolve, you can follow the WGT community on Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook, where we will continue posting updates. 

“In my opinion, the dialogue day was an essential part of the summer camp and a beautiful way to keep growing the seed we planted when we put our visions and ideas into a short film. Meeting other youngsters and experts to brainstorm and get a concrete project started were very enlightening and watering practices. From the discussions and observations, I saw many youngsters being more confident and assertive towards the goals of contributing to the change and speaking out about the future they want. Personally, it was a pleasure to co-facilitate and co-organise this day with Finn, Ann and Monique. I felt empowered and more engaged into creating the life we want for ourselves through intergenerational cooperation and co-creation. I am looking forward to co-organise other events like these to grow together!” – Chloé Bernardino, ECYL from France 

Picture credit: Till Brüggemann 

The final day of the summer camp was Friday, 18 August. Although it had been a long week with a full programme, in a location that got many of us out of our comfort zone, I could tell many of us were not ready to say goodbyes. On this last day, we gathered again with the entire group, shared our eye-opening experiences, time-traveled through Joanna Macy’s Seventh Generation group activity, and enjoyed one last lunch together before some well-deserved rest and relaxation time. That evening, our party planning committee hosted a “See You Soon Party,” in which we were all given paper passports to write each other messages as a souvenir of our time together. As one of many surprises throughout the camp, Moritz Lohmann, a participant from Germany, performed a song he had written about our experience together, and was thereby accompanied by Alfonz Lazri, who played the guitar.  

“Thus, looking into the future, the 1st edition of the We Grow Together Summer Camp marks a beautiful starting point of a growing community of like-minded individuals, ready to stand up for what they believe in. Thanks to a special event programme, new connections and bonds of friendships will hopefully invite a movement of co-creating futures together. With the intention of continuously building bridges between disciplines, cultures, and generations, ECI is gratefully joining hands with its partners and affiliates from around the world. In the long term it is therefore especially exciting to support the 11 topic teams in the follow-up of their project plans and collaborations. Sharing and unleashing visions for change, the We Grow Together Community is meant to connect and empower young people to believe in their talents and gifts to co-create futures with no one left behind.” – Ann Cathrin Nachtwey, ECYL from Germany 

Although it will be difficult to gather this group again in person, I can tell that we will see each other soon in one way or another. Each participant who showed up really expressed their passion for making the world a better place and leaving the camp as a multiplier who will continue to make a positive impact in their spheres of influence. As Youth Coordinator, I hope that all world regions will be able to plan and receive support for these types of regional gatherings, because there is nothing like the feeling of finding a community that also cares and respects our larger community of life and is ready to act and unite efforts towards a more sustainable and peaceful world. We are truly grateful for all the participants, partners, special guests and organizations that made this experience possible. 

Our WGT organizing team is already looking forward to the second edition of the camp! If you would like to stay informed, you can follow the community on Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook, or contact Amanda Bennett for more information.  

Written by Amanda Bennett, ECI Youth Coordinator with contributions from Ann Cathrin Nachtwey and Moritz Lohmann. 

All photos by Till Brüggemann.