As an international volunteer at Hors Pistes, Mimicry represented to me a full youth exchange experience as I was involved in both finding the participants, as well as being a youth leader of the French group. After many interviews, we found our four participants with whom we were going to spend unforgettable days in the Apennine mountains in Ligonchio, Italy, learning about active youth participation with three other groups from Portugal, Spain, and Italy.
After an almost 24-hour long journey, we arrived in Ligonchio at the place which was going to be our home for the next ten days – Ostello dei Balocchi. We then met our charismatic coordinator, Giorgio, and the members of the hostel, a sweet family with three other friends who keep the hostel (and the village) alive. During the following days we got to learn that this small village had around 100 inhabitants, that the people there are not very receptive to newcomers, and that the associations which we were going to meet try to liven up the area as much as possible.
First, we discovered the project Reinventa, an art partnership where our hosts contributed to an art piece in the forest to make new tourist attractions and to involve the local community which helped create it. Then, we discovered Cupra, a cooperative which offers mountain-bike activities to adventurous individuals, where its members clean and build new paths in the mountain for this sport. The creators also own a sports equipment shop in Ligonchio and they wish they could live and work in the village full time, but until then they’ll keep commuting from the nearest city where they have other jobs too.
Another day saw us walking into Cerreto’s forest, breathing in fresh air, touching snowy trees and watching a foggy view in what was called forest therapy, an activity created by the Briganti association. We then discovered the centuries-long tradition of chestnut fuming which takes place in small stone-built houses that used to serve as gathering points for the community, sharing stories, and warming up by the fire at the end of the day. We also learned that these associations collaborate among themselves and recommend each other to tourists to boost their visibility which is very important in this secluded area.
To complete the chain of associations, Ostello dei Balocchi was born after a past school wasn’t needed anymore in the shrinking village. Our hosts organically built various projects within it, one of the most poignant ones being their donkeys’ caretaking. Around ten donkeys and one horse are found in the nearby barn with whom they have summer camps with children. I have to be a bit critical about this part because I don’t agree with the usage of the animals for any reasons, but it was an interesting experience for me to get to know the donkeys and take a walk next to them. The association also hosts families who want to explore the area during the weekend, they welcome internationals like us from Erasmus+ projects, and they have even hosted art residents as they are artists themselves.
The rest of the activities were meant for us to get to know each other better by doing non-formal games, to present our countries at international nights, and get involved in workshops about youth unemployment – the main topic of the project for which we got inspiration from the many associations visited. The last day we had a presentation at a luxurious school in Castelnovo about our learnings and experiences together for the highschoolers to be inspired and potentially join Erasmus+ projects themselves.
Looking back at this experience, it was a breath of fresh air up in the snowy Apennine mountains which found me nestled in this homey cabin of great people and activities. I will finish off by recommending the song Grandola Vila Morena by Zeca Afonso which was the hymn of this experience for me, thanking the Portuguese group that brought me closer to their culture and even my own. I think it goes without saying that I highly recommend an Erasmus+ experience to whoever seeks something different in an educational and inspiring environment even for a short period of time which can only be beneficial to one’s self-growth and vision of life.