“Walking the talk” is all about doing what you say you’ll do. And last month in Tunisia, six HI national associations including HI-USA walked the talk to college aged Islamic and Western young people through a program called IOU Respect and a “values” commitment made just a few weeks earlier by International Youth Hostel Federation leaders at a world meeting in Thailand.
In early August, leaders from IYHF national associations around the world gathered in Bangkok. Every two years the conference is held to elect the international board of directors, review recent progress, and discuss future direction. This year a set of three values was formally adopted to shape IYHF’s focus in the years ahead:
- Inclusivity – to be available to all, safe and affordable, and respect differences and diversity.
- Learning and Understanding – to experience the world’s diversity through experiential, hostel based travel.
- Sustainability – to act in a socially, environmentally and economically responsible way.
IOU Respect is a program that lives those values. It annually brings together male and female representatives from Egypt, France, Germany, Lebanon, Tunisia and the USA ages 18-23 for intensive hostel-based learning and intercultural exchange. The program intends to bridge the gulf that sometimes exists between Islamic and Western cultures. Professional facilitators support the dialogue-rich process, addressing topics like cross-cultural communication, privilege, stereotypes and societal norms.
In late August, the 2014 program was capably and warmly hosted by the Tunisian youth hostel association. Two Tunisian hostels -in Tunis and in seaside Bizerte – were the main venues for dialogue and learning over a two week period. When I joined the group, I found a closely knit, high functioning multi-national team filled with laughter and jesting that revealed an astonishingly deep level of understanding of each other. The participants and coordinators that I spoke with all seemed pleased and even a bit surprised by the closeness developed by the group over the short period of time.
As I sat on stage for the closing ceremony, it wasn’t much of a mental jump from Tunisia to the biennial IYHF conference that had concluded earlier in the month on the other side of the globe. So much so, that I made the connection in my remarks to the college-aged audience:
From the openness exhibited by the diverse group (inclusivity), to their startling insights and perceptiveness (learning and understanding), to the beach cleanup project they undertook (sustainability), the IOU Respect experience epitomized the values that HI seeks to deliver.
At Hostelling International, we walk the talk.
In this world, that message is important.