Free-time activities as tools of intercultural integration

August 23rd, 2013 1:40 pm

Young people are playing in a lunchroom during an interfaith conference (Who is my Neighbour: Migration and Xenophobia in Europe) in Velletri, Italy. The games are fast, the commands of the leader are short and strict. Some „gentle aggressivity” is in the air. Everybody is laughing at small misunderstandings – funny language barriers are unavoidable in such a workshop.

I had the chance to lead this workshop as an instructor and the participants played the role of students. We took a glance at KravJunior and other free-time activities – as tools of intercultural integration.

The „original” system was designed as the official close-combat style of the Israeli Defence Forces by Imi (Imre) Lichtenfeld, a Hungarian Jew. Civilians and children involved in this work as well. Krav-maga is a self-defence and personality development method that could play a definite role in education and recreation. Lichtenfeld’s Krav-maga is aimed at students handling conflicts, their interpersonal skills and assertive communication. It helps them with developing fighting skills and preventing attacks on streets, in schools and pubs, clubs etc.

Although it sounds strange to teach kids and teens the craft of military combat, the junior version, so-called KravJunior (their age-related versions are KravKid and KravTeen) with decreased level of aggression can be a unique combination for learning self defence, playing games and getting disciplined. Dealing with controlled aggression contributes to self-control. Furthermore, it contributes to multiculturalism through organising multi-ethnical and multi-religious groups.

Right now, I teach several bilingual (English-Hungarian), multi-religious and multi-ethnical Krav-maga and KravJunior groups in a Jewish pre-school (Benjamin Pre-School), in a playhouse (Noha Studio) and mainly in the Bálint Community House (the official Jewish community house of Budapest): Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist guys work together. Children and teens with Roma, Hungarian, Vietnamese, Georgian, French, American or other background play together without any conflict. And this is not only because of the „fantastic” Krav-maga itself.

We are not magicians

As a matter of fact I can say that all kind of common work in mixed groups can help the intercultural dialogue with or without sport-elements: for example singing, fishing or simply playing basketball. On the one hand, two American psychologists, Sherif and Sherif[i] proved that with the conscious work of well-educated teachers, kids are capable to break down the borders between the cultures. What is more, they also proved that without this consciousness the situation can only worsen. Finally, under the supervision of an under-educated or racist educator the same mixed children group could become intolerant while playing with children coming from minorities.

Answering participants’ questions, Mr. Bashy Quaraishy, the head of the European Jewish-Muslim Platform said in his workshop during the conference that the meaning of multicultural youth-work is the voluntarism and community based activity. Schools are not always open to gain new experiences with multicultural children groups, but the modern European states need this openness. He suggested that the community houses and camps could be places for the free-time activities. In my opinion, he is right.  I also tried to found co-operate state schools but the official Eastern-European schooling is not prepared yet to such a big change: organising multicultural events and clubs for a better future.

In a nutshell, if you want to help integration of minorities in your country just find a hobby what you could teach kids with different ethnic background and go to the next community house. Start it!

[i] Muzafer Sherif and Carolyn W. Sherif, “Ingroup and intergroup relations.” Chapter 19 in James O. Whittaker (Ed.), Introduction to Psychology.Philadelphia: Saunders, 1965.


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