The 27th of August, I woke up 4.30 AM, took the train to Copenhagen, ready to board my 10.00 AM flight to Prague. That did not happen.
My flight was cancelled. After having walked around like a confused ten-year-old for a couple of hours, I received a ticket to Åhus. Then in Åhus, I was asked why I had gone to Åhus (“who goes to Åhus?”). I was not sure. After many more hours of confusion, I had boarded a plane to Prague.
The plane finally landed in Prague. The sky was now pitch black and the last transport bus had departed hours ago. I had no idea what to do. I was deep in my mind imagining different ways to sue the Czech Airlines when I received a message on my phone.
One of the best things with IFMSA is after all that the engaged students are spread across this world. The message was from the NORP from the Netherlands. She, like me, was stranded. Then, the previous Czech NORP kindly invited us to his home. We crashed on his sofa. It was actually quite comfortable. We woke up 5 AM the next morning and took the metro to the train, from which we travelled to the camp in Krisanov.
We finally got to the camp, about five minutes before the start of the first session. If I had been asked to describe the camp at that moment, my description would have been a few bunkers in the middle of nowhere. At second sight and after having walked around; I found there was also a bigger building with showers, a dining hall and a kitchen, a football field and a lake. There were simple bedrooms with bunk beds and bathrooms. There were also a few spiders around. And wasps.
I attended the TNHRT. The first sessions were an introduction to Human Rights. Even if the information was quite basic, I learnt a lot. The general knowledge in the group was surprisingly high. Because all participants came from different cultures, and because everybody contributed to the discussions with their points of view, even discussions on the most basic aspects of Human Rights became very intriguing.
TNHRT overall was a mix of soft skills and training in Human Rights. It covered soft skills such as public speaking, graphic facilitation and improvisation. Sessions more related to Human Rights were Peace and Conflict, discrimination and Intercultural learning. Human Rights in disasters, health as a Human Right and International Humanitarian Law. And so on.
One session that I remember well is the privilege walk. The privilege walk was a session where the participants found out how privileged they were. The facilitators read different statements, and participants took steps back or forth depending on if the statement was true or false for them.
I was quite sure I’d be among the most privileged participants in the group. I am white. I am from Sweden. I have never felt marginalized in my life – and I could never count all the opportunities I have received. However, when we finished the walk, I found myself in the less privileged half of the group. I was not the only one who was surprised by how it all turned out. How could all the Turkish people be in the front? How could white straight guys from high income countries stand in the back? Maybe, things aren’t always as we see them. Or maybe it was just a crappy exercise.
Unlike I thought when starting out as NORP about half a year ago, there is so much more to Human Rights than the UN’s Universal Declaration on Human Rights or International Humanitarian Law or anything you could just scribble down on a bunch of A4 papers. Human rights are complex. I believe it was these free discussions about Human rights that taught me the most. Discussing Human Rights gave me insights.
The days were very long; finishing at around 8-9 PM every day. But when the last discussions were finished awaited socials; different activities for every night.
The classic national food and drink party was the first activity. All the tables were arranged building a large “U” in the dining hall. In the middle was an unofficial dancefloor and, on the tables, heaps of food from all over the world. I hadn’t really realized the extent of the national food and drink parties, and so I had brought Singoalla, Ballerina and Brago. Motivation: Swedish fika. But standing next to the Japanese heaps of rice cakes, ten flavors of Kit-Kats, Japanese chocolate and so many sweets you felt like entering a Japanese sweets shop when passing by, I wished I’d have brought something more interesting than dry cookies.
Another activity was the karaoke night, which turned out to be more like a 60-people-screaming-lyrics-from-a-song-and-dance-along-night. It was great. Perhaps the best part was when “My heart will go on” started playing. Before I fell asleep at around 2.30 AM I could still hear fractions “I will survive”-lyrics from the dining room.
Apart from the NFDP and the karaoke night, there was also a Bonfire, a Pub quiz and a goodbye party the last day. The socials were very well organized, the only problem was that they started late in the evening and quite a lot of people were tired. We certainly contributed to the International federation of sleepy students’ associations page.
The week passed very quickly and suddenly I found myself sitting on the bus to Prague Airport. My initial plan was to sleep, but instead I had a long conversation with a former IFMSA-member from Portugal, now a doctor and a trainer. When we got off the bus, there were lots of hugging and quite a few tears. A fellow NORP waved and shouted “we’ll see each other again!” through the crowd.
And it’s sort of cool that even though we live hundreds of miles from each other, it’s true.
Matilda Stjernqvist, IFMSA-Sweden National Officer on Human Rights and Peace 2018-2019