Stuttgart Germany and St. Louis, Missouri USA During the summer of 2006 a peer exchange was held between young people at the Imani Family Center and the Mothers Center of Stuttgart Germany. These two organizations have a sister relationship and have had many exchanges between adult grassroots women. This exchange was our first that included young people. This paper is a record of that event and reconciles the programs with the values and vision that guide our work.
“We start with VALUES and VISION” – NCNW Sourcebook
Primary value and vision we have used for this exchange was taken from the 16th principle of the Earth Charter in the section on Creating Democracy, Non-violence and Peace. The principle is:
“To promote a culture of tolerance, non-violence and peace by encouraging and supporting mutual understanding, solidarity and cooperation among all peoples and within and among nations.”
In conjunction with UNESCO, the city of Stuttgart and Andrea Laux and the Stuttgart Mothers Center, we created this peer exchange for young people in our communities. 24 people participated including 18 young people and 6 adults and many volunteers, community organizations, and donors.
Working as we have from the beginning in the spirit of St. Angela, foundress of the Ursuline Sisters, and our African-American value system that is inculcated within the celebration of Kwanzaa, we have identified the following set of values:
These are the values of Kwanzaa that we merge with the spirit of Angela’s counsels as we work with girls and women. These values led our work during the exchange and also determined what we would do when our visitors came and how we would work together to accomplish them.
We introduced our visitors to African-American spirituality and culture by taking them to Murchinson Tabernacle CME for services. Two of the girls who went to Germany are members of this church and participate in the “Praise Team” which is part of their local service. This visit included introductions and recognitions of the group, a display of photos from the German exchange on the church bulletin board, and a visit from the local pastor during a home visit. The group also participated in our cultural practice o f blessing meals. We also went to tour a local Salvation Army shelter for homeless men so the girls could see how religious groups participate in community support fro poor and homeless people. The visit ended with a community service activity at a former German parish, St. Peter and Paul. There they prepared and served meals to about 150 homeless men, women and children. Working with members of the El Bethel Baptist Church they prayed with and met members of the community working as volunteers and had conversations with the people they served. This was reported by the girls to be the most meaningful activity of their exchange program.
COLLECTIVE WORK AND RESPONSIBILITY
The exchange was staffed entirely by volunteers who planned the activities, provided transportation and supervision, cooked and served meals, accompanied the girls to various activities. These volunteers also did fundraising and used their own resources to plan activities for the girls and our families. Ti aws a self-help project because our visitors were responsible for maintaining their space, assisting with meals and cleaning up afterwards.
All members of our community at Imani Center shared responsibility for helping with expenses. Some people approached organizations and businesses, others donated food, materials and time. Many volunteers wrote for grants that were used to help us meet expenses. Donors contributed graciously toward our costs. Our parents also made contributions.
The leadership team at the Imani Family Center worked for months to plan both sides of the peer exchange. All decisions were made in support groups and the plans for the visit were determined collectively by the group. These people contributed much to the success of the event through their giving time, talent and treasure. We were open to suggestions from the German delegation and made adjustments to the schedule according to their wishes.
Our purpose incorporates our vision and values. We wish to help re-build families and communities, provide opportunities for inclusion, cross-cultural exchanges and life-long learning. Our exchange was centered on these principles and we feel happy about the results.
We used our creativity in many ways: to create a lovely environment, provide nourishing and healthy meals, to interact with the community. Our visitors were also quite creative with their creation of art, jewelry and other gifts they made and presented to us while they were here. African-American culture was featured in many ways from food to clothing to support circles to spiritual practices. We feel the girls got to know not just America and St. Louis but also African-American people and we (and they) were very happy about that. Our own children learned more about German culture and the German roots of St. Louis.
Our work is deliberately cross-cultural and intended to help create and maintain strong relationships across the boundaries of race, class and color. This was a wonderful opportunity to work for that kind of unity. Our Circles of Hope included personal support, dialogue, reflection and questions. Our work is an expression of our LOVE which is the basis of our unity.
This exchange strengthened the relationship between the Stuttgart Mothers Center and the Imani Family Center as Partners. Both organizations are members of GROOTS International and the Sister Cities program and we wanted to demonstrate the ability of Grassroots organizations to create our own peer exchange. It reinforces our principle of self-determination and it allows us to know one another in a deeper way and to include the youth of our communities in our relationship.
We have several principles that guide such as the Earth Charter and this kind of exchange is intended to build democracy and strengthen cooperation and peace between our countries. It also supports the development of young people as global citizens and prepares them to be the next generation of grassroots leaders.
For some time GROOTS International has discussed youth exchanges with girls and we were able to live out his vision in our exchange. We learned many things tha can assist us in our relationship with GROOTS as we consider the future of youth exchanges. The youth chosen were cross-culture. This was arranged deliberately and the Germans came to visit a culture within a culture when they came to visit an African-American community. This fits our goal of dismantling racism by building understanding and tolerance of other groups of people.
The girls were self-managing which was part of their leadership development. We held regular circles of hope using the leadership support process of the National Congress of Neighborhood Women. We included a rural/urban exchange as part of our program with the assistance of the University of Missouri Extension program. The girls were given the opportunity for volunteer service by spending some time feeding the local homeless community and visiting a shelter. The girls had expressed a desire to see how people lived so we had home visits and visits to local schools as well as meetings at the Imani Center with families and other community members. The girls visited local cultural attractions including museums, amusement parks, and the zoo. They also made a visit to the Mayors Office and they met with the City Board of Aldermen. They visited a local African-American Church where they were warmly greeted by the minister and congregation. This visit involved the Imani Center and many members of the community.
The young people who were involved had life-changing experiences. The adults benefited from working with young people from both countries. The resources for the exchange were made available by a unique opportunity—the UNESCO World Youth Festival and World Cup. It also strengthened our relationship as sister cities in th International Sister City program. It may be difficult to recreate this event because of the cost but it was a high point in our work with the German Mothers Centers and we were grateful for the opportunity.