Independent living is the cornerstone for a meaningful social and professional inclusion. Therefore when Babilon Travel ONGO with whom our organisation has already worked, to be part of the Empowering Visually Impaird Youngsters for a more Independent Living in short EMVIMIL project We answered yes despite the lack of human resources. With a fantastic small but strong team in Belgium we managed to put together an interesting programme.
The project name indicates clearly the overall objective of the project. The main objectives of the project are:
- Support youth workers to develop quality activities, based on values like equality, equity, inclusion, access to education and culture, democracy and human rights, including VIPs in these activities, in order to increase their mobility, employability and sense of entrepreneurial initiatives, capacitating in this way their independent living;
- Improve youth workers abilities to work with mixed groups of disabled and non-disabled youngsters and those with fewer opportunities in order to: strengthen youth work in an inclusive context over Europe by developing an international cross-sectorial network of professionals, organizations, public and private institutions and other stakeholders active in the field of youth and social inclusion, capable of exchanging good practices on various related topics like non-formal, informal and intercultural learning, interpersonal communication, digital competences, independent and healthy lifestyle in a green, sustainable environment, employability and entrepreneurship.
Two activities were chosen to achieve the objectives of the project: a study visit and a youth exchange later in the year.
The study visit took place from June 7th to June 14th mainly in Liège Belgium, but we also had the opportunity to visit organisations in Brussels and Leuven in Belgium.
32 participants from Albania, Belgium, Ireland, North Macedonia, Romania and Turkey joined the activity.
During the activity, representatives of the organisations, youth workers and volunteers blind or partially sighted and sighted had the opportunity to discuss and exchange on several topics. The Belgian organisation VIEWS International proposed a couple of visits to organisations or invited guests who are blind or partially sighted with an important role in the area where they are living to share their experience and discuss with those present. Such activities were:
- Visit to the Association La Lumière from Liège that helps blind and partially sighted from 0 to more than 100 years old in different fields of life: early intervention, school, daily living, mobility, employment, culture, leisure etc. We visited the rehabilitation Centre, the library and other occupational therapy workshops.
- Meeting with Phillipe Dumonceau president of Blind Challenge an organisation that proposes for blind and partially sighted sport activities for no extra price: they do skying, tracking, skydiving, and more. The president explained how sport changed his life and the effect it has on most of its beneficiaries. He is a blind person himself and set up the organisation as there was no such offer in the area.
- Gérard Silvestre is blind and works for the Alteo, an organisation within the mutuality (the health insurance service) in the group that stands for the rights of persons with disability on a regional and national level. He illustrated the importance of a common community and representation towards the decision makers to influence the legislative process in favour of persons with disabilities.
- The city of Leuven in Belgium welcomed us and the Diversity team and accessibility team explained their work to ensure that their city is an inclusive one and that persons with disabilities can live their lives in an independent way.
- Eqla, another association for blind and partially sighted, presented their library and game collection for blind and partially sighted services that help their beneficiaries to get information and develop their self-esteem to aim for independent living.
During the study visit we had the opportunity to explore by ourselves, to analyse the accessibility of a place, we did that with the main railway station in Liège followed by a discussion about the public transportation systems of each participating country.
We had the opportunity to learn about what the EU programmes can offer to increase our independence via their mobility programmes Erasmus+ and the European Solidarity Corps, the Youth Pass and finally we put together some good practices and recommendations that we will share with our decision makers in each of the participating countries to ensure that independent living becomes a priority.
It was for sure a very intense week in content, we exchanged a lot and we enjoyed being together after more then two years of inactivity or online activity.
Some of the participants will continue the work in the Youth Exchange later in the year.
Thank you to all participants for their flexibility, commitment and for their courage to continue the outdoor activities despite the intensive Belgian Rainy days.