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Rural Erasmus+: our first exchange in Peñalba de Santiago

Last October took place the first Erasmus+ meeting of the project "E&E: together for our youth", a one-year collaboration with the Estonian association Ethos MTÜ. The truth is that for this project we could not have chosen a better setting: the mountain village of Peñalba de Santiago. It was a short but very intense exchange of twelve rural youth in total: half of them from Estonia and the other half boys and girls from Valdeorras and El Bierzo. We tell you how the experience was!

From the first day, we wanted to delve into the subject and local history. This time we talked about rural and social entrepreneurship, and for this we wanted to do it with our feet on the ground, based on real examples and knowing well the territory and the problems and opportunities of a place as special as the Tebaida Berciana.

It was time for workshops to get to know each other, guided tours of the village and its Mozarabic church, presentations, debates and a memorable intercultural night in Bierzo.

Despite the rain, the project was full of outdoor activities. We made the traditional route to the Cave of San Genadio, and the same day in the afternoon we went to Montes de Valdueza, where we visited the Monastery of San Pedro de Montes: an exceptional environment to learn about the complex history of this region, but also to discuss the abandonment and recovery of heritage.

Back in Peñalba, it was time for the day's workshops. We learned about new skills and techniques for group work and leadership, with practical preparation based on the example of a potential project for the restoration of the monastery of San Pedro de Montes.

The highlight of the day came with the Estonian intercultural evening, with a variety of traditional dishes, snacks and drinks, accompanied by Estonian music.

The third day of the project started with a workshop to talk about the skills an entrepreneur should have, as well as leadership styles. We brought out the creativity of our participants during a theatrical performance (one of the non-formal learning methods we use the most) and had a lot of laughs!

Later the Estonian team prepared a workshop on argumentation and debate, we built our "house-shaped arguments". The Estonian team comes from a debating club in Tallinn, it was really lucky to have such an active group.

To continue the day we headed to the... Canedo Palace! We promised to learn through local examples, so how could it be otherwise, we had a great welcome, learned about Prada's personal history, took a ride with the mythical carroviñas, learned the difference between Rosé and Clarete, and tasted the local produce. It is truly inspiring to see the amount of preserves, wines and other Bierzo products that are produced there in an artisanal way.

Happy and impressed, we returned to Peñalba with the imminent melancholy for the last day of the exchange...

Time flew by and on the last day we started the morning with "Six Thinking Hats", a super fun and very practical workshop on communication styles and leadership. After the coffee break, we came up with local activities and dissemination of everything we had learned during the exchange, and we took action with outdoor photography and video.

Did you know that the T-shirts we wore are historical photographs of Peñalba? It's amazing to see how much villages like this one have changed since the 1960s. The author is the photographer Amalio Fernández, who portrayed the rural Bierzo of that time like very few others. It is worth taking a look at his work.

The afternoon was the most emotional moment with the farewells, the evaluation activity, the presentation of YouthPass diplomas.... And of course the moment to say goodbye with a very special magosto. It has been our first rural Erasmus+ experience in Peñalba, but we are sure that soon we will be back. Thanks to all of you who made it possible!

Special thanks to: Ethos MTÜ, Concejalía de Medio Rural del Ayuntamiento de Ponferrada and Real Fundación Hospital de la Reina through Espacio Genadii.

Text: Lucas Docampo


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