Encompass, in one word: fantastic.
A quick background. Encompass is a charity organization and trust that was established in 2003 in memory of Daniel Braden who was one of the 202 people killed in the bombing of a nightclub in Bali in 2002. Encompass has been able to bring over a thousand young people from different places around the world (Indonesia, Israel, Palestine, the UK and the US) to meet, talk and form friendships in the hopes of reaching an understanding about where they come from and to learn about each other's cultures. In the week you’re together you do a mix of team building exercises and workshops.
My team included two leaders: Rori, Encompass’ programme manager, and Raj, our facilitator; and twenty-three other participants: myself and three others from the States (Aviva, Amy and Jaimie), four from Israel (Itamar, Gonen, Reut and Nadav), four from Palestine (Hussam, Hazar, Khadrah and Farah), four from Indonesia (Ferri, Putri, Koto and Irma) and eight from the UK (Danny, Ayesha, Miriam, Saf, Sunny, Smiley, Ali and Asad). My Encompass journey was from February 19 to the 27 and we traveled to the Pembrokeshire Adventure Centre in Wales.
Our week consisted of:
Sunday: The group met at Heathrow and we all traveled to Wales together. Hilarity ensued when we were first sent the wrong coach and then the right one broke down and so we didn’t arrive at the center until about 1am Monday morning. it was a good bonding experience because those of us at the back of the coach star gazed together.
Monday: A late wake up and our first team building exercise: build a bridge. We also had our first two workshops My Community, where we used pictures to represent our community, and Four Words: Identity, where we had to come up with four words we thought were important to our identity. One girl on the trip was engaged and so we threw her a hen party. We ended up learning dances from everyone’s cultures and danced until early in the morning.
Tuesday: The weather was terrible Tuesday but our team building exercises continued. We split in two different groups and half of us went canoeing and the other half went coasteering, I was in the group that went canoeing. It was raining and the wind was strong but we powered through it and my team won by screaming “IN! OUT!” as we paddled. It kept us motivated and made us laugh. Later that night we did a workshop called Scenes from My Life, where we reenacted two scenes from our lives that have made us the people we are today.
Wednesday: The weather cleared a little and my group went to a ropes course. We had a blast. We ended up covered in mud and laughing. At two different moments we had spoon on logs to fit everyone, it was another perfect way to bring us together. Our workshops that night were Cross the Line: Where Do You Stand, where we either stood on the left, on or right of a line to show our point of view on certain issues and Performing and Preconceptions, where we discussed a list of preconceptions we had about each other's cultures and we turned them into skits.
Thursday: This was our field trip day. Pembrokeshire, Rori and Raj took us around the coast of Wales and to St. David’s Cathedral. It was a little break from the other activities we’d done but while on a beach on the coastline we made little sculptures to represent our time with each other and we, at least I found, that it was one of the more tiring days. I think it was later that night we played hide and seek with Raj and Rori, but I sadly can't remember. I just remember having a blast.
Friday: On our last day working with the Pembrokeshire team my group went coasteering. We was incredible. I don’t think I would have ever done it had I not been with this group. I’m scared of heights and while I know how to swim, I would have been too nervous to. Fortunately by this point we were as thick as thieves and encouraged each other to keep going and we all made it through. Since we were hugging the coastline which has sharp edges I did not emerge unscathed, but now I have battle scars to brag about. The last workshop organized by Raj was called Questions and Answers where we anonymously wrote questions to each other about anything we were too nervous to ask face to face. We also began work on creating our own workshops to be run on Saturday.
Saturday: In groups of four and five we created five different workshops and from breakfast until dinner we ran them. It was a great opportunity to see how we worked together in small groups and in a different way than we’d been tested before. We were definitely all pooped by the last group, mine, but we all held it together and were pleasant throughout the process. After dinner we had our cultural evening where we had presentations about our cultures, like the first night the majority of us did dances but it was even more fun this time because we had become such close friends. To keep the festivities going we held an impromptu dance party but many of us were too tired and branched off to do other things.
Sunday: Any last minute exploring and cleaning of the spaces were done. Especially after the dance party the night before, we had tons of clean up to do. We also had to prepare our rooms for Pembrokeshire to reopen Monday. I took this time to buy two Pembrokeshire T-shirts and a backpack. After that was done we loaded up in to the coach and were off back to London. We got to London late in the evening, almost early Monday morning and piled into a hostel close to Faraday (where myself and the other three US students study here in London).
Monday: A sad day. We had our farewell ceremony in Faraday and I’ve been credited as being the first person who cried. What can I say, I’m an emotional person. I started crying at around ten in the morning and I didn’t stop until later that night. As part of the ceremony we gave each other certificates for completing the program and we had to call each other up to the “stage” to receive them. I had already started crying by this point, but when I was called up by Itamar and then had to call up Gonen, and I just about lost it. It was really hard saying goodbye to them.
I hate that I had an opportunity like this, losing a loved one is utterly painful and I don’t wish it on anyone, but what the Braden has given me and many others is a gift. The week I spent with these wonderful people was eye-opening and educational and I love my fellow participants. They're all wonderful human beings and I miss them every day.
I am very blessed to have been accepted to the program and I will do my best in spreading information about Encompass, which is where I need your help. Right now Encompass is raising money to continue the program. It’s very expensive and they need £7000 to cover the airfares for the people flying from Israel, Palestine and Indonesia. They now have about £3000 and are still accepting donations. I know money’s tight now, but if you're interested and able to give, you can go here to donate online. Every bit helps and as one of my favourite professors from high school said, “The longest journey starts with a single step...I think that’s a great metaphor too."