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The HETEROTOPIA TOUR is a non-formal education tool to empower young people, promote cooperation and intercultural dialogue and foster social change
In those times of globalization, as people have been facing several crisis at a time (economic, social, environmental, cultural), travelling is a great “opportunity to learn, to be formed, to professionalize, through intercultural dialogue, meeting foreigners, and welcoming otherness” (“Traveling Experiences and Lifelong Learning - https://voyageformation.sciencesconf.org/, University of Rennes II - France, 2017).
It is in this perspective that, since its creation in 1998, the French organization Via Brachy (www.viabrachy.org) has been running travel-based trainings to support people in their personal development and socio-professional journey, including disabled people and young people with fewer opportunities.
The “Heterotopia Tour” - a tool that the association has been developing since 2013 - refers to M. Foucault’s concept of “Heterotopia” (“hetero” = other ; “topos” = place). It mostly consists in visiting places in which citizens are taking action to meet their needs while taking into consideration the needs of the society they belong to and the need to preserve and regenerate ecosystems.
The Heterotopia Tour is designed as an inclusive learning experience which impacts a person on several levels, so that they can become a key player in the change they wants to witness for themselves and for the society they are part of, while respecting ecosystems and human dignity.
“We travel to change, not location but ideas.” Hippolyte Taine
The Heterotopia Tour relies on the idea that travelling offers, to whoever experiences it, an opportunity to take a step back from one’s daily life. It enables a person to questioning their own convictions, lifestyle, choices and motives.
During this set amount of time, the person is ready and expecting to welcome new experiences. The setup keeps changing, helping to create a physical and mental dynamic as opposed to a sedentary routine. Throughout this time period they are willing to face and address their perception of self and others and question their relationship to their environment.
The safety provided by the frame of the trip enables them to step out of their comfort zone. It is a supportive framework which makes it possible to examine your bias, beliefs and ethics. It is a space to regain spirit, to express and speak your mind in new ways, to open up to new realities, new activities, new kinds of relationships, new perspectives. It is an opportunity to try and tackle new projects, both personal and professional, to challenge yourself within a group, in a context that differs from the usual, to explore different strategies in order to grow one’s ideas into realities and, in the end, to boost your confidence in your ability to take initiatives.
The Heterotopia Tour also brings already existing solutions forward, to conciliate the development of human societies and the preservation of the environment, exploring the new ways of working in the 21st century, in order to open perspectives for people and prevent the social issues and environmental doom to which our modern lifestyles and productive system is currently leading us.
It promotes exchanges of good practices between people and social economy practitioners, it stimulates existing networks and leads to the emergence of new partnerships between actors from different fields (youth and social work, social economy, environmental education, peace education, promotion of social and intercultural dialogue, sustainable agriculture…) in different countries, who share common values and are looking at the same time for efficient and sustainable solutions to address the issues of unemployment, climate change, acts of violence…
The Tour offers a resolutely optimistic outlook on the current state of our world and opens perspectives to people by showing successful social and eco-friendly initiatives, using a playful, creative and participative approach that helps reach a wide audience.
“Many small people who in many small places do many small things that can alter the face of the world” Erich Fried
The Heterotopia Tour brings participants to discover innovative social and ecological projects, based on cooperation and humane values: freedom, justice, solidarity, welcoming the Otherness, overall inclusion.
Its purpose is to be a practical inspiration for those who participate, from both personal and professional reasons, by creating ideal conditions for keen individuals to meet: those who want to act (but are clueless as to how or where) and those who can offer practical, innovative and sustainable answers to those interrogations - in various contexts (economic, social, environmental, cultural, political…) and fields (education, health, housing, craftsmanship, agriculture, ITCs…).
The Tour offers a chance to unravel prejudices against alternative lifestyles and to build new possible futures thanks to the time spent meeting people with an inspiring background, who are actively involved in down-to-earth social and/or eco-friendly projects. Participants get the opportunity to have a talk with pragmatic figures of social change who have a message, life lessons, and energy to share.
It is on the field, immersed within the projects, that the participants meet the project bearers. It happens in various ways: non-formal interview/talk/visit of the project (to get a sense of purpose and grasp complex projects), practical workshops, during work sessions and tasks for the benefit of the project, allowing the participants to get first-hand experience, learn from their hosts and get a feel for the tasks they’re dealing with.
Apart from these workshops and formal interviews, the participants settle on the land and share their daily routine with their hosts for a few days, that makes it easier to find a time and place to address one’s interrogations and helps get taboos out of the way.
“A journey is a stepping stone for the imagination that feeds each of us and proposes to find out, not only the unexpected of others, but also of oneself.” Bernard Giraudeau
The Heterotopia Tour is also an intense human experience. It relies on the idea that, through mobility, a participant will have to open up to new people and their differences. Travelling is a key opportunity to address the question of how identity is formed, to lay foundation for a sense of transnational citizenship, and to develop a set of skills that take into account the wide variety of relationships to the self, to others and to the world.
In practical terms, the Heterotopia Tour gathers people from different backgrounds, ages, cultures, origins, living conditions…, among which people with fewer opportunities or facing specific social or economic difficulties, for an extended experience of community living within a multicultural group.
Mundane aspects of daily life have to be examined individually and collectively. Participants have to find a balance between the many different ways they act and the requirements of community living. All the Tour long, they acquire soft skills that will shed a new light on their daily personal and professional life after their return.
The Tour becomes a chance to re-learn how to listen to oneself, to better communicate with others, to welcome diversity, to respect and support each other. It is a profound experience which teaches participants that community living requires efforts, but is worth it. It relies on many cooperative attitudes, some of which we are often not aware of and are capable of improving.
Eventually, the Tour allows participants to reclaim the meaning of “citizenship”, to regain a sense of collective action, and to feel part of a community in which they can blossom, and to the development of which they can contribute.
Finally, the Heterotopia Tour introduces the participants to a more ecological lifestyle. They will meet the opportunity to learn practical know-hows, to reduce one’s ecological footprint and sort out what is actually a necessity for them to thrive from what is unnecessary and excessive.
In practice, all the Tour long, participants are using dry toilets, decreasing their use of water and electricity, experiencing seasonal cooking, discovering local and fair-trade supply sources, low-impact hygiene and cleaning products, renewable energy and fuel-efficient equipment.
On top of the sustainable living conditions offered by the Tour’s logistic arrangements, they are introduced to key concepts such as “ecological footprint” and “sustainability”, and benefit from various theoretical introduction and practical workshops led by skilled trainers in waste management, permaculture, eco-farming, eco-building, natural healing, food processing…
This wide range of activities eventually allows participants to understand the issue of sustainability and to gain practical knowledge on how to apply ecological values in their daily life, either they are living in the countryside or in the city, and whatever their standard of living.