The annual International Workcamp at the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial could, like so many planned events this year, not take place in the desired format. Instead of completely cancelling the event, a new medium was tried out, resulting in the first ever Online-Workcamp. This digital version was also organized and conceived in cooperation with the Service Civil International (SCI).
From the 5th to the 19th of August 2020, 14 participants and 2 supervisors/guides from four different continents worked together digitally. The participants from Azerbaijan, Belarus, Germany, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Russia, Uganda, Uzbekistan and Vietnam logged themselves into the Workcamp video conferences. The international composition of the participants always greatly enriched the discussions and the exchanges, but with it came new logistical challenges for the organization of the project.
While the participants of the International Workcamps usually travel to Neuengamme and spend two weeks on-site with each other and to work together, this time it was the different time-zones with partially a 12 hour time difference where the participants live, that decreased the valuable time available that the participants could work together. The six concrete central and meetings together started at 2pm. Middle European Time. In Mexico, it started at 7am. , in Indonesia and Vietnam at 7 pm.
„My curiosity kept on growing each day, which I didn’t expect.“ (Sreja, India)
Between the meetings, the participants worked in small groups or alone on their projects. The central Work project for this year’s Workcamp was the renewing of the Wikipedia entries for the Neuengamme Concentration Camp in various languages. The international participants edited and completed existing entries, such as in Russian or Spanish. They also created new entries in languages for which there were no existing entries for the Neuengamme Concentration Camp, for example in Indonesian, Vietnamese, Kazakh or in Hindi. Like in previous years, the participants wrote multiple articles for the local Bergedorf Newspaper.
The main aspect of every International Workcamp is meeting others. Achieving this in the digital format proved to be a challenge. In the short time-window that the video conferences could take place, there were organizational, content and interpersonal exchanges that stood time-wise always in competition with each other. As the interaction and the exchanges were very important for the motivation to actively participate, new solutions to enable this needed to be found. For this to be achieved, multiple online platforms were established.
Next to joint online meetings, there was an additional internal platform, where participants could introduce themselves and next to texts and photos, as well as audio and video recordings of themselves, they could share their motivation to participate in this Workcamp and provide personal input after each individual program point. As a result, there was a greater feeling of group cohesion from day to day.
„Even digital, even online, we still had lots of experience here. And more knowledge, especially on the Neuengamme Concentration Camp.“ (Devi, Indonesia)
The main focus of the Digital Workcamp was to engage with the history of the Neuengamme Concentration Camp. The traditional start to every International Workcamp, a guided tour of the Concentration Camp Memorial’s grounds, took place via a livestream of a digital guided tour. This brought participants closer to the site and its history.
As many of the participants also act as multipliers (as teachers etc.), and can incorporate the content that they’ve learnt into their lessons, the Digital Workcamp had an effect beyond the actual program and brought them into contact with people in far-away regions, with whom little-to-no exchange had previously been established or taken place.
The digital format of this year’s Workcamp proved to be a technical challenge. There were unstable internet connections, heavy rainfall in India that caused the internet to drop out, a restriction of internet access in Kazakhstan to one hour at night, or the shutdown of the internet in Belarus during the protests accompanying the presidential election. This made it difficult for participants to participate in the joint online meetings or even prevented them completely. Nevertheless, they did not let themselves be discouraged by these difficulties. The participant from Kazakhstan made use of the daily hour when the internet was available for the country to participate in the Workcamp; other participants went to other cities with better internet connections just so they could join in the video conferences, or stayed in their office after their working hours in order to participate in the online meetings from there.
„When this situation with Covid-19 started I thought: Oh my God, I’m never gonna get out of my house! But right now I’m in eight or nine different Nations ... and that was really amazing.“ (Naivy, México)
The participants’ solidarity was impressive. They not only took an active interest in the political situation of their countries but also initiated exchanges/discussions on topics such as the different situations of individual countries in the Covid-19 pandemic. These very personal and touching insights enriched the Digital Workcamp beyond the actual topic and will be remembered by the participants for a long time to come.
„Thank you so much for the opportunity. Thank you for the openness, thank you for giving us such a platform to express our views, to share our minds and also to connect. I appreciate that and pray that we keep the spirit.“ (Henry, Uganda)
Article by Melani Klaric and Martin Reiter