EU-UWC Partner Programme Paves Path to Reconciliation
European Union Programme for Cypriot Youth at UWC
Imagine the scene, three Cypriot students sharing a stage in a classroom at UWC Maastricht, presenting the history, the ongoing peace process, and grassroots initiatives for reconciliation in Cyprus. Back home, it is a sight rarely seen in schools: Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, jointly, telling the shared history of their island. These are students from the EU Scholarship Programme for Cypriot Youth at UWC, a partnership between UWC and the European Commission, which creates an opportunity for Cypriot students to address some of the biases which have kept their island divided for decades.
Funded by the European Union and implemented by UWC, the programme started in 2019 with six scholarship students from the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot community attending UWC Mostar in Bosnia & Herzegovina. Georgia (UWC Mostar, 2018-2020), was one of the first six scholars on the programme. She explains the significance of choosing UWC Mostar as the pioneering school of the EU Scholarship Programme:
“We learned that our UWC campus was in a part of Bosnia & Herzegovina which still experiences the effects of historical ethnic divisions and tensions. And that made it a meaningful location for the first generation of Cypriot youth from both sides of the island to live and learn together. As UWC Mostar students, we liked to take pictures together on the Stari Most, also known as the Mostar Bridge, which connects the two sides of the divided town. I like to think this image is symbolic of the purpose of our bi-communal scholarship programme which is to build bridges of mutual understanding between our Cypriot communities.”
Since 2019, the programme has funded 28 Cypriot students attending a UWC school in Europe (UWC Adriatic, UWC Maastricht, UWC Mostar, and UWC Robert Bosch College) and for 2023-entry, the EU will sponsor another 16 scholarships for Cypriot students. Harnessing the power of a UWC education to create opportunities for peace and reconciliation, this generous support from the European Commission impacts not just the students themselves, but also their families and wider communities.
Peace education in action
With an education model based on the promotion of peace and sustainability, the EU-UWC Scholarship Programme aims to build mutual understanding between Cypriot communities. This happens within lesson time, but also outside the classroom. For example, during cultural weeks and the celebration of UWC Day, students present and share their diverse cultures, traditions and, of course, food with other students and members of their school community. Through their own initiative, the students host events to teach their peers about Cyprus, its contested history and path towards peace and reconciliation. Workshops have included “Divided Cyprus, Divided People?” during the Peace and Conflict Focus Day at UWC Robert Bosch College, and a talk about peace building efforts in Cyprus at UWC Maastricht.
As is the case for many UWC students, the biggest impact often comes not just from the knowledge and skills learned during the many field trips, excursions and projects, but also the friendships gained along the way. This is especially true for the young Cypriots of the EU Scholarship Programme for Cypriot Youth at UWC. Deren (UWC Mostar 2018-2020) was part of the first cohort of six EU-UWC scholars to attend UWC Mostar:
“With over 50 nationalities represented on our campus, our six co-years simply became “Cypriots” - a single community that takes pride in embracing our unique culture from the heart of the Mediterranean. All my co-years know those times when we came together to explain to friends from around the world the complex history of our island or how we always pulled out a map in response to ‘Oh, Cyprus, where is that?’. These are just the simplest of experiences that, deep down, emphasised to us that we are simply Cypriots who share and value the same community.”
Thanks to the expansion of the EU Scholarship Programme for Cypriot Youth, it is not only scholars going to UWC schools who can benefit from these transformative moments. Since 2021 the programme has also included year-round, bi-communal activities on the island, encompassing residential and online UWC-EU short courses, youth engagement activities, a structured mentorship programme, and a project immersion week in Cyprus. These opportunities are open to the wider community, giving more young Cypriots the chance to practise intercommunal dialogue while working on their leadership and change-making skills. At the residential short course in Kornos, participants came together to consider the shared needs of their communities and came up with social impact ideas to tackle them collaboratively. For many, this was the first time that they had made a friend across the divide. The vast majority left eager to continue this engagement with 96% of Cypriot participants reporting that they were likely to apply to more bi-communal programmes in the future.
In addition to the short courses in Cyprus, the EU Scholarship Programme has provided scholarships to Cypriot youth to attend a UWC short course in Europe. In the summer of 2022, four Cypriot students attended a short course. Two of the students travelled to Belgium to participate in the UWC short course Connecting Borders, and two joined the UWC short course Building a Sustainable Future in Germany, where Defne and Daniela were participants:
“We found out so much about each other’s culture, since we live in such different parts of the island. We realised that, although we don’t speak the same language, we have so much in common, such as songs and ideologies. After finding out so much about our own country through one another, we managed to share so much with other participants during the course.”
Defne and Daniela have remained friends since the course and, together with a Spanish participant they met at the course, have created Artflow, a bi-communal competition combining creativity and sustainability, which they are currently implementing in Cyprus.
Paving the path to reconciliation
To date, the EU Scholarship Programme for Cypriot Youth programme has already reached over 1000+ Cypriot and international youth as well as an extended community of parents, educators, and other collaborators on the island. And in July 2022, the first six scholars celebrated their successful completion of the IB Diploma Programme at UWC Mostar with a graduation ceremony held in the buffer zone of Nicosia. Following the celebration, the guest of honour, EU Commissioner Elisa Ferreira, had an inspiring message to share with the scholars:
“Cypriot’s youth voices must be heard. They have a role to play in reconciliation. [It’s been] Inspiring meeting you. Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.”
Implemented by a bi-communal team of project staff, the programme rests on the dedicated engagement and stewardship of Cypriot UWC alumni and other volunteers. In 2022, UWC and the European Commission agreed on the third phase of the programme, offering additional scholarships and new activities like the Social Impact Awards and a two-day forum bringing together youth voices for peace. Looking ahead, Kjartan Björnsson, Deputy Director and Head of Unit for Cyprus Settlement Support at the European Commission, speaks of the importance of investing in Cypriot youth:
"Providing educational opportunities to the Cypriot youth is of the utmost importance for the EU in our efforts to pave the way for the reunification of Cyprus. We believe that the youth holds the potential for change and positive action in their communities and the transformative experience of the UWC educational model gives them the necessary tools to become active stakeholders in the peace building process.”
The programme is a tangible example of UWCs mission, offering insights and learnings that will help to inform UWCs ever-evolving educational model. It shows that the founding ideals of UWC remain as relevant and important as ever, equipping young people with the knowledge, skills and networks to enact positive change within their communities and beyond.
The EU Scholarship Programme for Cypriot Youth at UWC is funded by the European Union. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of UWC and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.