Deep impact

A story told by Matti Vandemaele Mesen, Belgium

Matti Vandemaele of Hostel Peace Village wants to connect tourism and WorldWar I education with each other. Peace Village in Mesen is a group holiday accommodation. In a region that suffered a lot during the Great War, Peace Village combines vacationing with peace education.

"We face a deficit of tolerance. Tourism brings people together; it opens our minds and hearts."
(Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of the World Tourism Organization UNWTO)

Matti: "Peace Village offers tailor-made programmes according to the interests of each group. Peace education is always at the heart. In the Westhoek, starting points are everywhere. Together with our guests, we try to look beyond historical facts, discovering their present-day relevance. We link tourism to the landscape and history of the Westhoek. World War I memorials are everywhere around here. In our programmes for youth and school groups, we constantly establish the links so as to leave a deep impact."

"It takes guts to make a society issue such as tolerance the very nucleus of your identity."
(Marianne Schapmans, director of the Holiday Participation Centre)

Matti: "For a group of art students, for instance, we take their love of design as a starting point and then we link that to events of the past hundred years. Fourteen year-old pupils can visit the tomb of a kid who was the same age during WWI. English youths will visit places where people from their country or city fell victim to the war a hundred years ago. Some of them play football, just like the soldiers did during the Christmas ceasefires. When a reburial takes place at a military cemetery, we make sure our guests can witness it. Seeing this as a kid leaves a big impression. Even if we only manage to provoke one second of reflection among the kids, we’ll have succeeded."

This original and high social value-approach is now being recognized by the international network of tourism and leisure professionals. The World Leisure Organization crowned Peace Village with the International Innovation Award. The jury described Peace Village as a ‘highly commended project’. Marianne Schapmans, director of the Holiday Participation Centre of Tourism Flanders, brought the award back from the World Leisure Conference 2016 in Durban (South Africa) and handed it over to Peace Village in the name of the World Leisure Organization.

Authored by Griet Bouwen Bilzen