My trip to Europe lasted for six weeks altogether. The first three weeks I spent in France attending the Clin d’Oeil Festival in Reims, WFDYS board meeting, WFDYS Youth camp and the WFD Congress in Paris. I arrived in Paris and took a train to Reims for the Deaf film and arts festival.
I missed the first day but participated in the remaining three or four days. I was there to do some WFDYS work but also to enjoy the festival. There were so many new people to meet and many I hadn’t seen in a long time. The festival attracted about three thousand people and communication around the Deaf village was so easy. Because everyone uses sign language, no barriers exist for communication and you can get food and drinks easily. I looked after the WFDYS stall and provided information to people as well as selling sunglasses for fund raising, the money for which was directed to the camp. Other stalls included people selling hand-made crafts, among a range of others products and services all by Deaf people. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see any of the theatre performances due to being stuck at the stall. Colin Allen and I presented information in two sessions about the WFD and the WFDYS, its future and current work. Not many people came to see us but despite that they had questions and showed their curiosity. Attending the festival was really worthwhile but exhausting at the same time. During the day I would hang out in the village and at night enjoy the party, meet new people and watch the DJ and listen to music. It was also a good reason to escape the Australian winter and enjoy a European summer. Laura supported me on the stall but she was, at times, busy herself working at a bar.
After the festival Laura and I travelled back to Paris by train. The WFDYS board had booked an AirBnB to accommodate all five of us. We arrived and then soon after Alejandra joined us, followed by Yoorang. We had a relaxing time for a couple of days, catching up from our last meeting. I was really set on watching the State of Origin match back home and so I told them that I am keen to watch it in an Australia pub in the city and asked if they wanted to join me. They agreed. The following day, we took the train into the city to find an Australia pub where I could watch it. It turned out to be one of the most exciting games I have ever seen. Of course, my allegiance lies with NSW. The other three were somewhat bewildered by this game we call rugby. So they decided to leave to do some shopping but I bumped into other friends of mine who came from Sydney who all cheered the whole time. After a very close match the bar erupted with cheers for NSW who won.
After the game I caught up with the other three and we went back to our accommodation. We played some games and cooked some food. Laura is a really good cook so we were spoilt with some good food to go along with the great company. We knew that this would be our down time before the storm hit in the coming days of the camp and congress. Mark arrived the next day and we enjoyed the catch up and exchanged gifts. It was a lovely mark of appreciation for the four years we have worked together. My first two years was difficult but once we clicked into gear everything and everyone worked well.
The next day we checked out the AirBnb, we caught a maxi Uber to camp site and stayed there for 9 days to prepare the board meeting and the youth camp. We started with two days of meetings where we made our final preparations of reports and documents to hand to the incoming board. We also spent time ensuring that all aspects of the camp were in order – program, accommodation and logistics with the COC (Camp Organising Committee). They had worked so hard over the last three years to prepare everything. All youth participants were split into groups and I was responsible for awarding points based on their attendance, team work and other skills they showed in the final days during the camp. There was a great deal of competition but also encouragement within the teams. After four years of preparation and work the camp hosted about 130 participants from 40 different countries. Everyone had a chance to meet others and warm up. We again stressed that communication would never be a problem to help them with their confidence and it was clear to see the emerging future leaders supporting the less confident participants.
The week-long program was really valuable. It began with Colin Allen, the WFD President making a presentation followed by workshops and activities. The following days also offered workshops and teaching, we had five outside presenters talk on topics like social media, Deaf economy, human rights and taboo topics, all of which gave them pause for thought, led to further discussion and problem solving in a global context. On the middle day we made a trip into the city of Paris, which was about an hour away. We first visited the Deaf school, which was the first ever school for deaf children in the world. The rich history there is amazing. We then went to the Pantheon which hosted a special exhibition on Deaf education. In the afternoon everyone had free time. I hung out with the WFDYS board at the Eiffel Tower and took some photos together before three board members decided to go back to camp, another one went to do an errand and I re-joined with some youth to hang out at a park, get some ice cream and basically enjoyed some time before returning back to the camp.
Back at the camp the next two days included some more team activities and presentations before a wrap up and presentation of awards and fun games on the Friday evening. Most of the participants left for home the next day but some stayed on for the Youth General Assembly and the WFD congress the following week. Sufficient sleep during a camp is a rare thing and is a fair trade for the valuable experience the camp offers. Day time is always busy but at night we are all still up playing games and enjoying our company.
The WFDYS board left the camp and headed to the WFD congress venue to assess everything before the Youth General Assembly (YGA). Alejandra and I also joined a couple of meetings of the WFD to assess the bids for the next camp and congress. Four countries put forward a bid to host the next camp. Over the following two days the YGA hosted many presentations and reports from various people. There was also a number of internal matters that needed ratifying by the 30 delegates. This was all in the name of identifying a path forward and activities for the next four years. Despite being extremely tired it was a productive couple of days. On the second day the elections for board positions and the host nation for the next camp were held. The 2022 children’s camp will be held in Uruguay and the 2021 junior camp in India. As with WFD tradition the youth camp is held in the same country as the congress and so South Korea was awarded this honour.
We then turned to elections of the board directors which was exciting because I had put forward a proposal for the positions of either president, vice president or secretary. I made my pitch for president but missed out. I then was able to pitch for the vice president position and was awarded that. This means that I will once again work closely with Mark Berry over the next four years. I am very confident that we can continue our close collaboration as we have done thus far. The vote for secretary was held as well as inclusion of four new board members, making a total of seven directors on the board. I am really excited by this because they offer a great variety of skills, gender and nationality. The secretary is from Canada, and the ordinary board members are from France, Norway, Chile and India. They all seem really willing and able to take on the work of the WFDYS for the next four years. The two-day YGA was then brought to a close.
We then switched gears and moved into the WFD congress. The opening saw a number of presentations on a range of the congress themes. I was support for the Chair of the Sign Language and Deaf Studies stream, Robert Adam. A member of the French Association of the Deaf also provided support. The support of the chair was busy enough but I was also on duty at the WFDYS stall selling products, involved in meetings and working with the new board to map a plan of inducting them into the WFDYS structure. I may have eaten something a little off the day before because my health was not the best and the hot weather is not helpful but I struggled to get through.
The days were spent at the congress while most of the nights were spent at the local Canada Club, a venue that attracted many of the congress participants. It was always hot and crowded so I chose to go only every other night. The weather had changed on the final day which brought cooler temperatures and a little rain to much relief inside the club. I also went to the congress dinner which was very enjoyable.
The congress was over and most people prepared to depart for home but I joined Alejandra and Laura on a trip to Turin, Italy, where Laura lives, with a train transfer in Lyon. We then stayed for three days at Laura’s house where we could completely unwind and relax. It was such a relief. For the previous three weeks we were crazy busy and the time seemed to go so fast but we achieved so much. And in that moment I could turn the page on the past four years. My thoughts on that chapter have not yet crystallised – so many challenges, so much learning. But now we move on for the next chapter of working with the new board. The three days rest in Italy was exactly what I needed – a good rest, good food, good weather and good company.
After Turin I went to Milan for a few days to hung out with another friend of mine and then I flew to Barcelona, Spain where I visited the Deaf run restaurant named Ziryab, ate great food and ran into several people who had been to the congress and the camp. Also luckily Laura and Alejandra re-met in Barcelona so we spent some more time together hanging out to explore the city. I then caught a train to Toulouse, in the south of France and thoroughly enjoyed visits to a couple of museums. A pastime I really enjoy. I have a friend from Australia who now lives there and she took me around the city. My favourite part in Toulouse was a visit to the Space museum. As a space enthusiast, I spent four and half hours exploring the museum – the great part is that I climbed into a Soyuz spacecraft. It used to carry cosmonauts to the ISS (International Space Station). There are currently six crew members living in the ISS. I am amazed at how small the Soyuz spacecraft is. I could not imagine three people fitting into this spacecraft. The next day, I also met a friend, Sandy from the COC who showed me around the city too.
After two nights I took a train back to Paris and spent another two days with Yoorang and had a great time. And then everything was done and wrapped up. A whole six weeks in Europe was at times tough but in all a great experience. I am back in Australia now and looking forward to the next meeting of the new WFDYS team.