QUEST hosted the third and final Learning, Teaching and Training trip in Brussels end of September 2023.10 participants from the Democratic school of Sofia slept at QUEST’s headquarters, in a typical Belgian townhouse close to the European institutions. We were joined by the Paint and Quarter horse foundation team from Bulgaria, Staff from the Maria Montessori School of Klaipeda, and Dolphin Trainers from the Lithuanian Sea Museum.The weather was surprisingly gorgeous throughout the trip.Together we were welcomed by Dyadis, our associate partner for Assistance dog training, we had a social dinner where all participants could discover a variety of traditional preparations of mussels and Belgian fries (Vegan pasta was prepared by QUEST’s ESC volunteers for those who decided to pass on the mussels).We received a full visit of the inclusive pedagogical farm Nos Pilifs, where 140 persons with handicaps are given employment in a variety of sustainable tasks.We had social activities such as Spike ball and ping pong in the beautiful Belgium city parks.We had a full European institution focus day, with membership and policy meetings in the offices of the EASPD, a visit of the EU parliament, and exploration of the Museum of European History, and for some, the Dinosaure permanent exhibition at the museum of natural history.The group sighted the medieval centre, the grand place and the Atomium! We then traveled all together to the south of Belgium, to Bearing where the “Lycée Voyageur” school picked the BUSTA team on their big traveling school bus and drove us to the democratic school whose students participated in the LTT2 to Klaipeda: L’Arbre Des Possibles.There, we gathered to play games, watch the BUSTA video of the Klaipeda LTT2 and a video of the L’Arbre des Possibles, We had a question and answer session with the Founder and the students of the “Lycée voyageur”, had lunch, and toured the school.
The trip generated feedback that I hadn’t anticipated:All participants were delighted to spend time with the dogs. This process was beneficial for the dogs as they need playtime to mark clear moments of relaxation in between their intensive training at the centre. It was as always a delight to watch the trainers from other disciplines, such as the dolphin trainers and the horse trainers engage in deep conversation with the dog trainers to compare similarities and differences in their work, something that they rarely have the chance to do under normal circumstances.At the inclusive Nos Pilifs farms, The founder of PQHF expressed her excitement, as this visit was giving her vision of what could one day be achieved in her ranch. Founders from the Sofia democratic school were amazed, as in Bulgaria, there are no “pedagogical farms”, all farms are solely based on animal exploitation and production. As they has not so long ago almost purchased land in order to build their school and create an extensive project in nature, this visit was a huge inspiration that revived and aligned with their deepest aspirations for the future.During the visit to the European Parliament, we realised how abstract and far removed many inhabitants of the EU are, from understanding the guiding vision for the creation of the EU, European identity, and the operational mechanisms that are in place. We had an interactive presentation at the parliament who helped many of us become aware of how, as europeans we are connected on so many levels and how the decisions voted within the parliament have a direct impact on the lives of the entire EU. It was amazing. During the policy meeting at EASPD, we also became more aware of the practical processes involved in Policy change and what kind of impact would be possible through these processes. During the schools visit, the student participants could meet again with the Belgian students that shared the trip with them to Klaipeda, and we could exchange and create deeper ties.
For QUEST this has been an extraordinary journey, as for during the initial phases of the project QUEST was still operating as a democratic school itself. The transition into become a European network had caused us to question if it was of any relevance to keep the organisation of LTT3. We didn’t know if it would be interesting enough, to receive student participants from abroad if we were no longer a school.The experience was however surprising: similar to the BUSTA activities, where most of it happened with an assistant dog in training being welcomed within the home of one of the project’s students, The same happened here, where the visiting school was hosted within the headquarters of QUEST, a building which is also the home to part of the QUEST staff and all 4 of the European Solidarity Corps volunteers. This gave us a unique chance to witness the culture and the successes of the democratic education on the broader life experiences of these students. QUEST was expecting a week of chaos, and instead it was a very grounding experience, where students signed up in the sharing of all the house tasks for harmonious co-living. All participants were responsible and autonomous and it was incredibly easy to remain connected with oneself in their presence. There were many moments of laughter and connection, and when the entire group left, the whole house was spotless.I do not believe I would have had the chance to witness this if we would have only met at a school venue. This was a profound confirmation of the 21st century skills development that democratic education can foster in students.Following up with this trip, CDE school has expressed the desire to take on the translation of the DYADIS book “Itch, un chien pas comme les autres”, a published account of a real life relationship between a dog training volunteering host and the family of a beneficiary with severe autism. They would like to have the translation hopefully ready for the Multiplier Event in Bulgaria at the final stage of the BUSTA project: one other beautiful example of the emergent collaborations born from such partnership and collaboration projects.