Last Friday the Bello Belgo team organized the first intercultural exchange activity with the people from Embajadores Comunitarios. The goal of this first joint-meeting was simple: get to know one other and learn some cultural habits. Being invited to be present at 7pm, most of our Venezuelan friends showed up one hour later. Or how sometimes actions can speak louder than words: the real exchange had begun, but with more than an hour delay…
The country Belgium, its people and certainly its politics appealed – even more nowadays – to the imagination of the Venezuelan graduates. How is it possible that a country with so little natural resources is capable of attaining a GDP per capita three times as high as Venezuela? What is “a BHV”? Are you Flemish? How do you survive without a government? Questions rose, answers were given. Pieter Breugel’s “Boerenbruiloft” illustrated how we Belgians know how to appreciate hard work, good food and beer. The scene was typical: we were humble, but in the same time diplomatic and efficient in presenting. Or how 4 young men demonstrated the characteristics of real Belgians…
Being Belgian, ‘all good and well’. But what were our intentions to do here in Caracas? In fact, for the past few months we had been preparing our mission and the timing was right to show in detail what we Belgians are capable of.
For the next 2 months we have structured our activities in 3 pillars, being
- Financial support: short term funds from our present financial partners have been transferred. It is now up to us to set-up a strategy to realize a long-term inflow of funds for the Embajadores Comunitarios.
- Academic support: two times a week the Bello Belgo team will train the organization and assist the classes. On the one hand we will school the youngsters with information about the EU, its countries and related diplomatic and strategic issues. These courses have to broaden their perspective on world politics. On the other we have engaged ourselves to develop the personal soft skills of the youngsters and faculties of the organization (by giving presentations on negotiation, conflict solving, facilitation,…)
- Structural support: in the long run we aim to shape a continuous exchange between the Bello Belgo Foundation and Embajadores Comuniatrios. Here, we are to investigate how we can establish a university cooperation between Belgium and Venezuela.
By unveiling all of this, our Venezuelan crowd leaned back, opened their eyes and enjoyed. To us it was clear: on our first intercultural night we had impressed our partners. We finished the evening by emptying some real Belgian beverages, forging some friendships and listening to some funny Venezuelan do’s and don’ts. Or how it in the end always ends up with drinking beer…
Finally! Two weeks of intensive preparation and a 10 hour Iberia-flight later, we landed save and well on Venezuelan ground. The final ‘modus operandi’ of our project could begin. A warm welcome by our Venezuelan friends as well as a tropical Caribbean breeze set the perfect scene immediately.
Our intercultural exchange started as from the moment we closed the doors of the car: in Caracas people don’t follow traffic rules, they just set the rules. Cars passing by from the right, speeding, breaking, crossing the road verge – the what? – suddenly reminded us to Guido Belcanto’s famous classic “Pechstrook van het leven”:ultimately, we now know how to interpret that title.
Through our dark-blinded windows – “you better never show your face” – we cast for the first time a glance at the barrios of Caracas, perched on the hillsides of the city. Did you know that over 60 percent of the population of Caracas lives in the slums? In fact, they are not even on the map…impossible to count. Moreover – we had a look – the word Barrio is not even mentioned in the “Lonely Planet’ traveler’s guide for Venezuela. Our Caribbean working environment got shaped in our minds…
Many handshakes, kisses, a joke or two and a coffee later, we found ourselves relaxed on a couch at our respectively guest families. The four of us live with separate families in the districts of Santa Fe and Santa Rosa de Lima, save neighborhoods for the middle-class. We were really happy to see the excitement on the faces of the people to meet some tall Belgians.
It gave us an idea on what to expect for our first intercultural exchange activity with the people of Embajadores Comunitarios…Looking forward to tonight!
So it’s weekend again! After another week of Spanish and preparations, we get some time to look backwards… and forward!
Yesterday we finished our last classes, meaning it was time to say goodbye to our classmates and teachers. It was heartwarming to see how many of them wished us good luck with our project. Although it was a short period, we enjoyed Salamanca, its university and its people a lot, and for sure we will come back!
But every end means a new beginning, and for us this means that our flight to Venezuela is getting closer and closer…Exciting!
Over the last couple of weeks we got a lot questions what our project was really about. Well, here goes: with our Bello Belgo project, we are aiming for two things:
- First, we want to support and strengthen ‘Embajadores Comunitarios’. This is an educational project in Caracas that intends to increase the number of high school students from poor areas to start and succeed in university studies. About this part of the project we will write more extensively in the coming days, and you can read about it here as well.
- Second, we are doing a intercultural exchange with our Venezuelan counterparts. That means we’ll be getting to know each other’s culture, habits, language and gastronomy (Belgian chocolate, anyone?). Every week, we organize an ‘intercultural activity’, where we present to each other one of these aspects. This part of the project is financed by the Flemish Government, who has a subsidy line for ‘global youth projects’ (interesting!).
We’re leaving to Venezuela on Monday morning, but after the video that was sent to us by our Venezuelan friends, we can hardly wait! Hasta luego!
Some weeks ago the Bello Belgo team succeeded in one of its biggest missions: to find a godfather for the Foundation. A person well-known in Belgium and having Venezuelan roots? We didn’t have to look that far…
One of the best players at the moment on belgian’s soccer fields is a Venezuelan international, named Ronald Vargas! Since its transfer to Club Brugge in May 2008, Ronald has more than once shown its capacities as attractive player with excellent dribbling skills and great crossing abilities.
Having played and lived in Caracas, Ronald was more than eager to support our project. He knows the people, habits and lifestyles of the barrios in Caracas. Ronald acts as a role model towards the youngsters and wants to set the right message. The start of a beautiful collaboration was set…
…Unfortunately, this Sunday we received some bad news from Ronald’s entourage. During last Club Bruges football match Ronald got injured. According to a report on Sporza, Ronald has sustained ligament damage and he faces a six-month spell on the sidelines as a result. This injury comes as huge blow for Ronald and Club Brugge, since he has been the star player of this season and had already netted 15 league goals.
The whole Bello Belgo team wants to let Ronald know that our thoughts are with him and we hope that he recovers well in the next couple of weeks and months.
Ronald, que vuelva mas fuerte!
Today was a special day in Salamanca: el Dia de la Mujeres, the Day of the Women! Everywhere in the city, women wandered around the streets, while men sang them songs to show them their appreciation, and bought them dinner to impress them. Having no specific Salamantin girls to impress, we took this day as an opportunity to discover the Old City of Salamanca.
With its 2 cathedrals, its University and its Plaza Mayor, Salamanca truly deserves the title of UNESCO world heritage. Walking around here feels a bit like being in Leuven and Bruges at the same time: Salamanca has the look and feel of a medieval city, but the dynamism and youth of a University town. No wonder thus that this city is flooded by tourists. And they – and we – have enough history to digest: the university was founded back in 1218, as the fourth university in Western Europe (Bologna, Paris and Oxford succeeded Salamanca). Later famous people like discoverer Christopher Columbus, conquistador Hernan Cortes, medicin Andres Vesalius or Saint Ignatius of Loyola studied, lectured or lived in the city. A city would deserve to be Cultural capital of Europe for less! After our cultural walk , we cooked some good old Kempische boerenkost, and had a Cruzcampo to go with it. A perfect way to spend a weekend! Hasta la proxima!
So, the weekend has arrived! To us, that means that a busy work week has come to an end and… it’s time to enjoy Salamanca’s cultural and social life! Vamos!
Every day, we’ve gone to 5 hours of Spanish classes at University, covering the widest topics. Here’s a non-exhaustive overview:
- Spanish history (did you know Queen Joana ‘the Mad’ and King Philip ‘the Beautiful married in the beautiful Flemish town Lier?),
- Spanish cinema (the creepy movie ‘Tesis’ scared us all, but it’s a must see!)
And of course… we’re slowly but surely progressing on our Spanish grammar (soy, eres, es, somos, e… estis…. fueisteis?)
But of course, we have duties for our Venezuelan project as well. In our free hours all of us work on presentations, all with a specific focus:
- Koen, webmaster, is our very own paparazzo, following us every where we go with his camera
- Kin Chi, intercultural exchanger leader, is trying to make Belgian and European politics clear to our Venezuelan friends (not easy!)
- Michael, educational officer, puts the last hand on our ‘soft skill’ presentations: how to negotiate, facilitation,group dynamics,… (thank you, ProCom!)
So after a week full of Spanish lessons and power point presentations, it’s safe to say: we deserved to go for some tapas and cervezas in this beautiful city! Hasta luego!
Written by Peter
The Bello Belgo team has arrived in Salamanca! Guay!
To prepare ourselves for our project in Caracas, we need to start with the most urgent: learn spanish. We have signed up for a two week intensive language course at the famous Universidad de Salamanca, Spain’s oldest university.
Back to the books and being in class on time, it feels pretty nostalgic. For the next 10 days we will engage ourselves to follow courses in grammar, communication, lexicon and South-American history…And all of this right in the heart of the historic centre of Salamanca (‘La Ciudad Dorada’), showing us its Renaissance beauty.
Having classes with people from Iceland, Malaysia, South-Africa, Russia, Dubai, South-Korea, etc…puts us on the right track towards full cultural integration…
We are happy to announce that Bello Belgo has found its way to the World Wide Web!!
We welcome you to follow the activities of the Bello Belgo team.
This is our first post and many more will follow…