A post by our first guest blogger: Extant trainee Anita Barzey, who took part in an exchange visit to Bosnia with visual impairment charity VICTA.
Bosnia Adventure 2013: Entering the unknown
As the plane landed in Zagreb, Croatia,a mixture of fear and excitement filled my stomach. This in fact was only part of our journey. To reach our final destination of Kluj, Bosnia and Herzegovina, we still had a 3 ½ hour journey across the border ahead of us.
The week-long youth exchange program I was here to attend was organised by VICTA, a charity that supports visually impaired young people and their families, in partnership with ACT Global, a non-profit organisation that offer volunteering, training and cultural exchanges. The exchange program consisted of 11 visually impaired young people from the UK, 4 sighted Italians and 6 Bosnians. The aim of the exchange was to bring together young with and without visually impairment and help them learn from each other inclusion and cultural understanding.
Bosnian is known by many for the horrifying devastating conflict of the 90s and, more positively, fans of the Eurovision contest would remember Bosnia & Herzegovina’s numerous entries over the years. I attempted to embrace Bosnia with an open heart and mind, leaving my preconceptions behind.
Travel is undeniably an issue for the visually impaired community
The programme came with a full-on schedule that kept us active the whole week! The first major activity was looking at stereotypes of the three participating countries and of visually impaired people. It’s very interesting how as humans we construct stereotypes – where do they come from? On the last day of the program we revisited our stereotypes; it was clear that everyone’s preconceived perception had changed dramatically.
The beauty of roleplay
As a drama graduate, roleplay in my eyes is the best way to stimulate and engage a group. In mixed nationality groups we devised a short role play concentrating on the difficulties visually impaired people may face on a day-to-day basis. Most groups opted to focus on travel. (This is undeniably is an issue for the VI community). Despite language or sight difficulty each group managed to perform a role play that evoked interesting discussion. I believe it was an eye opener for the sighted participates from Italy and Bosnia who were shocked at the many stories emerging from the group.
A major part of the program dealt with visually impairment awareness. The program also focused on exploring different cultures. Each participating country had the chance to host a cultural evening which celebrated and honoured their traditions. A mixture of food, drink, music and dance was shared during these evenings. It was a great chance to talk about our home countries and also immerse in an evening of sharing.
Hike oh no!
I was horrified when announced we would be going on a 7km hike in the mountains. I had images of me gasping for air, I certainly am not as fit as I should be!
Often as humans we place restrictions on what we can and cannot do
But to my surprise I thoroughly enjoyed the expedition. The sighted members of the group were eager and keen to guide those that needed it. The trek through the mountains was such a bonding experience for the group, and during the hike, conversation flowed freely. One of the members of the Italian group told me they had never guided a VI person and had felt slightly apprehensive, but now felt confident as a sighted guide. Often as humans we place restrictions on what we can and cannot do. The hike made me realise we are often able to do much more than we give ourselves credit for.
Visually impaired and not alone
We took part in various activities such as sightseeing, cooking and blind cricket. I was amazed at how the sighted members of the group were able to assist and adapt with such ease.
As a visually impaired young person it is always inspiring and refreshing to meet other VI people. It offers aspiration and hope for the future. It can often feel like you’re the only visually impaired person around, however it was so rewarding to meet other VI people and to hear their stories and journey. Despite visual impairment so much is possible .The week in Bosnia was a week of positivity, reflection, learning and discovery.
Despite visual impairment so much is possible
Bosnia is an amazing and beautiful country which must not be forgotten. The negative connotations associated with Bosnia are, I found, false. The people are friendly and eager to share their beautiful country. As young people we all had similar fears and hopes for the future, however, being different is what makes us unique .To judge a person based on their nationality or disability is so last century!!!