OIFE Youth Event in Italy

Written by: Malene Sillas Jensen & Lars Nesset Romundstad

Time again for young people with OI to come together

The 7th of September 2023, it was once again time for the young people of the European OI community to come together. This time in Lido di Jesolo, in the Veneto region of Italy, one hour away from Venice. The event was organised by the Italian OI organisation Associazione Italiana Osteogenesi Imperfetta (ASITOI), and 30 participants from 12 countries made their way to the sunny Italian coast by both plane, train and car.

Similar to years before, both seasoned OI youth meeting participants, as well as new ones were excited for the next few days, having the opportunity to get to know each other, exchange experiences and learn from each other on OI-related topics, and completely different things. The countries of Italy, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, Poland, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, The United Kingdom, Ireland, Croatia and Finland were all represented, and were in the age group 16-35 years old.

Magnificent location

The meeting was held in the magnificent resort Villagio al mare Marzotto, a highly equipped compound with a football field, restaurant and bar, pools, basketball courts, and located right at a beach with astonishingly accessible facilities. We were split into different rooms, some living with pre-arranged roommates, others with people they had never met before. During the entire stay, not a single step was traversed by anyone, and except for a high bar counter and highly variable quality of the three-course meals in the resort restaurant, the location of the youth event exceeded everyone’s expectations.

Even the beach was accessible with wheelchairs at a number of locations, with staff ready to assist at any time. Although we shared the compound with both families, pensioneers and other youths, we had our own common area, as well as our own activities for the entire weekend, laying a perfect foundation to get to interact and get to know each other in the short 3-night stay that we had together.

Adventurous arrival

Thursday morning, people began to arrive. After landing in Venice Airport, we were picked up by accessible vans, which went mostly smoothly until one van broke down in the middle of the road. Fortunately, one of the organiser’s family lived nearby and was able to help. Others had decided to arrive either by car or train while others had spent an extra night in Venice before the event, but by Thursday evening everyone had arrived safely at the resort. The evening was used for getting to know new people and reconnecting with old friends, and participating in different games which had been planned to kick off the event.

Sunshine, science and Italian specialties

Friday started out with blue skies, sunshine and a temperature of 30 degrees, so naturally, the first part of the day was mostly spent sunbathing on the fully accessible beach or taking a dip in the sea. The only activity planned before lunch was a short presentation from an Italian car company that specialices in adapting cars and vans for disabled people. It was very interesting to hear about how this company works on adaptations; however, it was a challenging task to compete with the allure of the beach and beautiful weather.

After lunch, we set off on a trip to the nearby city of Jesolo. Here, the Italian organisers had arranged for us to have a full tour of two exhibitions located right next to each other. The first exhibition was a science museum and the other was a combination of a reptile zoo, predator exhibition and an aquarium. Even though it was challenging to compete with the attractive weather, both exhibitions were very interesting.

After completing the exhibitions, we all went to a nearby restaurant for appetisers and cold prosecco, joined by the mayor and other representatives from the city. The restaurant was located next to the beach and after spending 3 hours inside at the exhibitions, it was a much-needed experience to have some downtime in the sunshine catching up with friends over drinks and food.

Exploring wheelchair dance and writing stories

After another late night, Saturday kicked off with a wheelchair dance lesson. Even though it was hard for some to spin around too much, it was a really fun and very well-organised activity. The instructor was very passionate and created a safe space for everyone to explore dancing. In the end, everyone had learned a whole choreography. In the afternoon it was time for two activities. Luckily the A/C in our common room was fixed, and we were ready to hear about traveling with OI from Lidia and Andrea running the instagram channel and blog ‘A road to go’. It was both fascinating to hear about their adventures but it also sparked a lot of discussion. After the presentation from ‘A road to go’ it was time for a writing workshop about dis-stories organised by Charlotte from the UK.

Before dinner, it was time for a last swim in the sea for most of us, and for others, a little downtime on the beach. The evening was spent partying and saying goodbye before a lot of us had to leave very early the next morning.

On Sunday, it was finally time to say our goodbyes. Some were leaving at the crack of dawn, to catch the first departures out of Venice airport. It was an emotional goodbye for many of us, and we sincerely hope we meet again somewhere else in not too long in the future. Thanks to solid logistics planning by the organisers, we were all taken to the airport effortlessly with accessible vans, and we all caught our flights with time to spare.

Why OIFE youth events?

For close to two decades, there have been different events organised by national organisations, or in collaboration with OIFE all around Europe. Countries such as Germany, Belgium, the UK, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and now Italy have all hosted young people with OI. It is globally regarded as an excellent platform for young people to come together, share experiences, and to exchange ideas and see ideas from different perspectives.

For many, it is also regarded as a safe, inclusive space for people who not accustomed to traveling alone or with a personal assistant. In addition, with support from OIFE and others, it has traditionally also been a space which has allowed people from all over Europe to come for a reasonable cost, compared to an equivalent trip arranged in a private capacity.

An additional rationale for national organisations to send delegates to the events has also been to increase interest and knowledge in the field of OI, both internationally and nationally. In many countries, participants in these events have been, or have taken up positions in boards and committees in their respective countries. In Italy, as before, this was accomplished through long discussion far into the night, new friendships and ideas spreading across borders. We are very much looking forward to the next one!

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