Eighteen young leaders from UNESCO Associated (ASPnet) schools in nine countries gathered in the desert of Oman in February 2013, to celebrate 60 years of ASPnet in the context of the Omani Connecting Cultures programme which was set up in 2004 to promote intercultural dialogue and understanding between young people in Europe and the Arab world.
Each winter three groups of young people attend what is called “the university of the desert” in Oman, a powerful, unique environment where there are no doors to hide behind, and where team work and communication are vital. Each group spends five days travelling through the sands, on foot or on camel, sleeping under the stars and discussing issues, problems and solutions.
The February 2013 journey was open to young people from ASPnet schools only. Countries represented were Oman, the United Kingdom, Poland, Slovenia, Germany, Finland, France, Denmark and Switzerland.
“Thanks to UNESCO, I came back with a more open mind after this exceptional experience which allowed me to meet and discover other cultures,” said French student Clément Bercker from Genech in northern France. In an interview for his local newspaper, La Voix du nord, he said that “it was an occasion to reconsider clichés and stereotypes. For example the others were surprised to meet a French person who didn’t like cheese – while I was surprised to see Bedouins in traditional garb using mobile phones”.
Endorsed by UNESCO, the Connecting Cultures programme was cited by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) as one of the world’s leading civil society initiatives.