Erasmus+ project “Climate Ambassadors”
The project brought together partners from different countries, each with their own approaches to environmental protection and sustainable development. As volunteers of NGOs, we shared a common understanding of the importance of sustainable development and environmental protection. Turkey was selected as the location for the project due to the environmental pressures it was facing, such as population growth, industrialization, and rapid urbanization, which led to challenges such as climate change, desertification, deforestation, water scarcity, nature degradation, and marine pollution. During the project, we focused on various sustainability issues, such as reducing emissions, proper waste management, urban regeneration, renewable energy, zero waste movement, and sustainable housing. Through our activities, we aimed to save resources, reduce pollution, and contribute to reverting climate change, which would have a positive impact on communities' daily lives. The project participants contributed to improving the quality of the activities through their experience, skills, competences, and views, and shared their knowledge of environmental issues and sustainable development to ensure a successful exchange of best practices that could improve the environmental situation in the participating countries at the local level. One important activity that we planned was a cleanup activity to remove garbage that had accumulated in a specific area, as we aimed to reduce the amount of waste produced by humans. We shared the practice from Latvia on how social capital can be used to improve the quality of the surrounding environment. Furthermore, we believed that the project could contribute to the European Commission's strategic long-term vision for Europe to lead the transition towards a climate-neutral economy by 2050. We aimed to promote sustainable lifestyles among participants and other stakeholders. The main goal of the project was to raise awareness among young people about environmental issues, climate change, and sustainable living. To achieve this goal, we set the following objectives: exchanging best practices and creating new ideas to reduce the impact of human activities on the environment, exchanging information, knowledge, and best practices on ways to protect the environment and contribute to sustainability, promoting awareness among young people about sustainable lifestyles and mindsets, promoting social capital through youth initiatives, and promoting the Erasmus+ program. During the exchange, the focus was on creating a friendly and relaxed non-formal environment where participants could feel free to learn and share their experiences. The emphasis was on having a good atmosphere where participants shared not only during working time but also in their free time, taking responsibility for their learning and developing their ideas, which would lead to improving their competencies for future projects. The topic of the environment and sustainable development was considered interesting and exciting for young people. The activities were based on non-formal education and focused on active participation, teamwork, stimulating creativity, and acquiring new knowledge and skills. Different non-formal learning methods and activities were used, including ice-breaking games, name games, getting to know each other and team-building games, energizers, group presentations, work in groups, facilitated discussions, exercises, outdoor activities, and art. The youth exchange was based on the specific needs of the participants and partner organizations and was highly participatory. Diversity, such as in the group of participants, was considered a resource for the exchange and transfer of competencies, and special attention was paid to the intercultural dimension of the project. There were only a few frontal lectures, and the main part of the youth exchange was delivered in the form of practical sessions implemented by the participants in a learning-by-doing fashion, using the full toolbox of non-formal education and experiential learning. The facilitators took care of creating a supportive and safe learning environment, where participants were encouraged and coached while mastering challenges that contributed to their personal, professional, and organizational development. The learning took place both on an individual level as well as in synergetic group processes, while always based on the participants' needs. Transversal emphasis was put on creativity and innovation, learning-to-learn, feedback, (self-)reflection, and self-directed learning as key supporting processes. Furthermore, special attention was made to making the learning points of the youth exchange relevant, sustainable, and transferable, for example, by producing extensive documentation and providing templates for tailor-made development and action plans at all levels. A very important aspect of the methodology was the constant and ongoing use of self-reflection tools, empowering participants to acknowledge their strengths, understand better the learning outcomes, and motivate to create further strategies connected with the project topic. The participants who were involved in the project have benefited from the skills, knowledge and attitudes gained, and will continue to apply sustainable practices and behaviors beyond the project duration, thus contributing individually to environmental sustainability. We strongly believed that the participants became more aware of their daily activities and their impact on the environment, and were determined to share the knowledge acquired during the project with others. Furthermore, the participants realized the importance of even small steps in changing their behavior, and we think that they made small changes in their lifestyles that led to a greater environmental impact. Such changes could include not leaving the water running or lights on, starting up recycling boxes for the entire home, or learning how to reuse items and give them a new purpose in the household. Moreover, the complex of skills, knowledge, and attitudes gained during the youth exchange and practical implementation of activity have significantly improved their future career perspectives in much wider areas.