Yes, we can be pioneers for world peace

A story told by Judit Borbely and Anneleen Adriaenssens Lyon, France

Judit Borbely works for Vacances Ouvertes (France), where she runs the Sac ADos project. Anneleen Adriaenssens is a member of the EveryoneDeservesAHoliday- team (a part of Visit Flanders). She supports tourism partners and social organisations to lower tourism tresholds for people who experience social exclusion.

Edges are interesting places. Edges are the outskirts of places, happenings or groups. At egdes, the  fun stuff is happening. Fun, because in the margin of things, influences from what is behind the boundaries often come in play. An edge therefore is an opening to what could be different, new and refreshing.


In the margins of the ISTO-OITS World Conference 2018 in Lyon there was some interesting edgy stuff bubbling. Young, up-and-coming talented tourism professionals had an encounter to launch a European project together. Their dream: ‘One day, every youngster in Europe can and will travel through our European continent, exploring their identity and experiencing differences.’  We sat down and listened to two of them. After our conversation, they dared to conclude a bold and beautiful statement: ‘Yes, we could be pioneers for world peace!’

Judit Borbely is in charge of the French ‘Sac ADos’ project at Vacances Ouvertes. With this backpacker project, the organisation encourages and supports youngsters to pack their bags and travel abroad. Anneleen Adriaenssens works in a Flemish context, where her work aims to provide holiday opportunities for people who experience tresholds, because of poverty, disablilty or social exclusion. Both of them gather for the first time in a professional international context. Together with other organisations, they are preparing a European funded Backpacker project.

While the official World Conference was kicked of on Wednesday, Judit, Anneleen and an international group of young tourism colleagues already gathered on Monday.  By the time the conference delegates started their official meetings, this Backpacker Project Group already found common ground. Their enthusiasm could be sensed around dinner tables and in conference rooms. A new generation wants to be seen and heard. What happened in that particular edge on that particular world conference?

It feels like travelling

‘It is very exciting to experience the coming together of many ideas’, Judit says. ‘It makes me happy that our -meanwhile traditional – Sac ADos project became an inspiration for others. Judit tells about a funny experience she had these days. Even while she stayed in France to meet this international group, she felt like being on a journey abroad. In meeting the Italian delegates for example, she could exchange experiences about their places and culture and remember the flavour of what once was home for her.

 We are not alone, we are part of a togetherness

This gathering is energizing, says Anneleen. ‘Everyone is contributing with his or her whole heart. Just like I try to do when working in the Holiday Participation Centre. I’ve experienced that we share a profound enthusiasm. Ideas en insights flow in this group. It is a gift to feel connected with other young people who share a common dream.

Standing on each others shoulders

While Vacances Ouvertes runs its Sac ADos project for over twenty years now, a sense of newness raised in the international gathering. Judit: ‘Now experiences and practises of other organisations can enrich our concept. It is so valuable to learn from good experiments and use these to make the original concept even better and larger than it was. This meeting opened our view on the gifts of partnerships. And I felt very strong now that it is already happening.’

“Working in an international environment is a gift for each of us. And it is happening!” Judit

Also Anneleen tells about the surprises that bubbled up in listening to practices of others. It makes her think again, she says. ‘The people I’ve met in this group do similar things in different ways. It makes me think about how I can do things differently sometimes. We still can develop our social mission further. For example: connecting our work with partners in the labour market.’

Backpacker Europe, a promise

So, with all this mind, opening encounters at the edge of what is known as a hugely interesting and traditional conference, what is the dream that both Anneleen and Judit hold dear?  Judit: ‘I believe we can establish lots of opportunities for young Europeans to travel. That youngsters who never have been abroad, gain confidence, pack their backpack and dare to go out. And that, after this first experience, they dare to broaden the boundaries further and further.’ Anneleen adds she has the intuition that if everyone – meaning not only the fortunate ones – can travel further beyond their perimeters, they can meet new friends, new places, new cultures. ‘An when they see and are surprised and moved by what is different, I hope more young people make a shift from being afraid from what is different to be in love with differences itself.’

“Many years later, we will look back to these days in Lyon. Then we will say: yes, we were true pioneers for world peace.” Anneleen

And there we go: this is the step to world peace these two ladies dream about. This international cooperation is a gift to become more conscious in their work. Because they not only want to do a job and ‘organize’ opportunities for young travellers. These young tourism professionals want to contribute to what they feel as urgent, compelling and important. They share a dream: ‘Many years later, we will look back to these days in Lyon, and we will say: yes, we were true pioneers for world peace!’

Contributing to world peace… Is there a more beautiful purpose even thinkable? How about you?

Vacances Ouvertes, France
EveryoneDeservesAHoliday, Flanders, Belgium


Authored by Griet Bouwen Bilzen