Arena of Change: Good friends can't be kept apart

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Boys and girls from all walks of life meet in the Arena of Change. They probably never would’ve met in their everyday lives, but in the workshops at the FC Bayern Campus they learn from each other, experience what it means to tolerate other perspectives – and often become close friends.

"Message her back!" said Nirohn to Christos, pressing the phone into his hand. Both are 14 years old and the topic of girls is becoming more and more important. They give each other tips: What could she have meant with that last short message? Is she nice? Pretty? It's what all friends talk about. Without the Arena of Change, however, Nirohn the grammar school pupil and Christos the comprehensive school student would probably never have got to know each other. Now they have become good friends in a short period of time thanks to the educational project by FC Bayern and SOS Children's Villages Worldwide.

Four groups of 15 children and teenagers

There are four groups at the Arena of Change, each with 15 children and teenagers of different ages, schools and parts of the city. "Our group was thrown together and we had to get to know each other first," said 14-year-old Ela. "But that was also nice because I've always liked coming to the Arena." The participants exchange ideas in the workshops about how to fight climate change, they help each other with homework in the afternoon or show each other their basketball moves in the Campus gym. And they realise quite naturally that differences don't matter at all. Many friendships have developed since the Arena of Change kids began meeting at the Campus once a week. Only age differences sometimes pose challenges for the Arena of Change team. But there are enough games and projects where everyone can be involved.

Getting to know other perspectives

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Many different backgrounds create different perspectives as the diversity of the boys and girls in the Arena of Change enriches their time together.

In the case of Nirohn and Christos, social workers Anna Kronen and Teresa Jehlicka are already talking of a "real bromance". The boys only live a few minutes away from each other, but inter-school friendships in a big city like Munich are rather the exception. Basketball and girls are the main topics of conversation. They grin, but Christos and Nirohn say that part of a friendship is sometimes giving each other a piece of your mind or talking about serious things. Anna believes that the different perspectives enrich the children's lives, also with regard to their future. "The fact Christos is in middle school and next year will be his final year, he already has a completely different connection to the topic of education and the question of what to do after school." For grammar school pupil Nirohn, these questions are still some way off.

No pigeonholing, no teasing

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On this day, the Arena of Change kids see each other for the first time since the autumn holidays and greet each other with big "hellos". "This joy and warmth among them is just nice to see," says Anna. It has shown how unbiased the 60 pupils are since the start of the Arena of Change. There are hardly any barriers when it comes to getting to know each other in this generation, the teacher believes. "Heterogeneity and diversity are part of things now. Children no longer question them," Anna adds. There is also no pigeonholing with regards to the type of school.

Respectful interaction is quickly established. This is noticeable, for example, when a girl in the gym unexpectedly struggles on the pre-built obstacle course. A wooden bench is hooked into a box and the girl hesitates on the sloping way down. Only afterwards does she tell them she's afraid of heights. Everyone tells her that they're proud of her because she dared to run for her team anyway. There's no teasing here.

So many new things to learn

The more diverse a group is, the more new things there are to learn, many things that you are rarely or never confronted with in your own 'bubble' of school with selected friends, neighbourhoods, family. "Children who don't have siblings realise: Hm, I might have to take a back seat here. And young people with no younger siblings realise that little ones can also be annoying sometimes," Teresa says laughing. Some may also learn to act as a role model. "I can also encourage people in year five by telling them what it was like for me," says Nirohn of his school life.

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Iuliana is four years younger than her new friend Ela, but they still learn a lot from each other and only don’t see eye-to-eye in a physical sense in the Arena of Change.

Learning from others

And when there's a lot of new things to learn, individual abilities come into play more strongly at the same time. "Yes, of course!" exclaims ten-year-old Iuliana almost indignantly and with wide eyes when asked if friends can be better at something than she is. Instead, she is better at something else, and then they teach each other. At the Arena of Change, she has made friends with Ela, who is four years older. "I'm one of the biggest at school," Iuliana says. "It's cool to be the little one for a change." Ela has already told her what she will have to learn in year five. And what can Ela in year nine learn from Iuliana in year four? "She's very creative. She showed me how to make a paper airplane. I didn't know how to."

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A true bromance has developed between 14-year-olds Christos and Nirohn despite their different schools. They are glad they met at the Arena of Change.

Being open to new things

The three pillars of the Arena of Change are sport, education and creativity. Different strengths come into play in each area, even in sport. Of course, basketball lovers Christos and Nirohn are among the fastest in a race, but can they also crawl under a bench as fast as the girls from primary school? In the further course of the project, the children and teenagers at the Arena of Change will present their hobbies and talents and teach the others something. Brazilian martial art dance capoeira will be there alongside programming language. "A sport fan normally wouldn't say, 'cool, I'll learn programming'," said Teresa. Being open to new things is good for all of us.

Making friends and learning from each other

There is a note on a whiteboard in the team room that says "In the AoC you are..." The children have written their answers on sticky notes underneath. In the Arena of Change we are... "never alone", "creative", "there for each other". The group leaves no one behind. Making friends and learning from each other are mutually dependent in the Arena of Change, because learning is simply better with good friends.

The children at the Arena of Change took part in a special Olympics over the summer holidays:


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