Hilden, 28 February 2011. Working together at a distance is one thing, but meeting each other is quite a different affair altogether. Nobody would agree more than the pupils of Ansgar Beer's arts class at the Helmholtz-Gymnasium in Hilden (HGH), Germany. They had been looking into closer collaboration with young people and their mentors in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, for some time. But it was the visit of Prof. Stella Williams from Nigeria, a long-time promoter of this idea, which made those aspirations shaping up concretely. All of a sudden, the planning of the participation of young people from other places in the SeeArts youth exhibition to open 26 June 2011 in Hilden got a definitely real touch.

It was a good coincidence that Ansgar Beer and Stella Williams, both founding members of Mundus maris asbl, met over the preceding weekend in the occasion of the general assembly of the organisation in Brussels, and Stella could spare a day in her packed programme.

In a slightly impromptu decision we decided to seize the opportunity for Stella to pay a one-day visit in Hilden to meet the pupils and interested teachers and establish direct contact. Both Ansgar and Stella made a joint presentation to the first group in morning using the exhibition from Ansgar’s pupils who participated in a lunch debate and exhibition at the Free University of Brussels (ULB) with him last year February. Then Stella could show and explain to the pupils the paintings she had brought for the SeeArt youth exhibition in Hilden.

Thanks to the good facilities at HGH, including internet access, the projection of a map of Africa showing the location of Nigeria, Senegal and other places like Sierra Leone, the stories and their places also added context to what the pupils learnt in other subject matters. Pictures found online were also used to explain some cultural information for students’ educational development. At the end of the lesson, Ansgar took Stella to meet with the School’s Principal, Mr. K.H. Rädisch, in his office.

They both met as well with other teachers in the Teachers’ Staff Room. Stella answered some questions with reference to Mundus maris asbl while Ansgar explained that he wants the students to participate in a project in the Niger Delta.

After the meeting with the teachers the pair left for a visit to the City Hall in town. At the City Hall Ansgar introduced Stella to head of the office for cultural affairs, Ms. Monika Doerr. Hilden, and particularly HGH, are active in cultural and school exchange programmes. Ms. Kirsten Max, former collaborator of the mayor, Horst Thiele, and now working in the Service for Youth, Schools and Sports, had already been on visit to China with Ansgar and was planning a repeat visit with him in April 2011. As these municipal offices also support the SeeArt youth exhibition, Stella's visit to Hilden was a good opportunity to meet them in person as well.

This also enabled to get the keys to the Exhibition Hall where the SeeArt youth exhibition will be held in June and July 2011. There was an on-going exhibition, but the Hall is normally closed to the public on Mondays.

This gave the pair an opportunity not only to visit the venue, but also to have a private look at the Exhibition. The Hall seems just right for the purpose of SeeArt - not too small or too large.

Making these new contacts is already turning out as very positive, certainly from an academic and learning perspective of the responsible teachers, but also at a very human level. Two pupils immediately volunteered to join the project. Even Ansgar's family, wife and two daughters were drawn into the collaboration by offering hospitality and getting some lovely stories in English back that made the foreign language seem an almost normal way to communicate.

We hope that this is just one step on building lasting relations. More about Helmholtz-Gymnasium Hilden here, more about preparations in Port Harcourt in the Niger Delta about their participation in the SeeArt youth exhibition here.

Ansgar Beer and Stella Williams