The lessons we took from our research
In earlier stories (Focus groups, Research Report) we’ve discussed a variety of aspects of the research conducted within the Here To Stay programme (Full Research Report). In this story, we will focus on some of the recommendations that came out of the research. In the final report, these outcomes are structured as ‘thoughts for youth workers’ and ‘final recommendations and lessons learnt’ that specify more on NGOs as a whole. The outcomes were inspired by both relevant literature and the wisdom and experience of youth and youth workers participating in the research.
Thoughts for youth workers
“If you come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together” Lila Watson, Murri visual artist
Tell them who you are
When implementing a programme aimed at children and youth, tell them who you are. Say something personal about yourself and your organisation. But more importantly, tell them why you are here, in their world. Tell them what you are planning to implement and how you hope this will improve their lives
Ask them for their opinion: no matter what the subject is, you can always ask children and youth for their opinion (in age appropriate ways). If your programme is about school, ask them about their opinion. If it is about sexual and reproductive health rights, they surely want to talk about it. Not only does this convey that you take them seriously, it also reminds yourself why you do the work that you do and keeps you focused on the right topics. Especially listen to those who face hardships or live in ‘toxic’ environments. This is not a passive process, but a very demanding, active, and dynamic activity, that requires a lot of energy, understanding and patience.
Be reliable and flexible
Children and young people are still growing up, in preparation for being (hopefully) responsible adults. Besides growing up they have a lot to do school, relationships, chores, sports, and all the other social, emotional and physical challenges that life throws at them. This takes time and energy. So, when engaging children and youth, take this into account, and appreciate any time or energy they can give to you or to the project. At the same time, be reliable yourself, don’t make promises you can’t keep and follow up on any agreements made. You are a role model but cannot force anything upon youth.
“They are looking for a place of confidence, trust and non-judging; and a safe environment where they can be treated equally and as competent persons.” Youth worker from Czech Republic
Breaking the bubbles
You play an essential to break the ‘bubbles’ [social, occupational, ethnic, political] which young people occupy, to build bridges; not only between young people, but also between them and adults, services and public spaces. Be careful however, not to create isolated bubbles when doing youth work.
It takes special people
The participating NGOs are staffed by highly motivated people. They are guided in their work by strong feelings of justice, fairness, equity, anti-oppression, and inclusion. This value system helps them to reach out to new audiences and build bridges with excluded groups, which they do not perceive as ‘others’, but as equals, albeit, living in more dire circumstances. They are ‘respectful listeners’ and give priority to the needs and wishes of these groups. As such, they are carriers of significant knowledge and experience.
The importance of validation
NGOs such as the participants in this research project often work in the margin of societies. Their work is hard, successes are not always immediately obtained or visible, ‘elevator pitches’ do not work, there is a constant struggle to obtain financial support, sometimes dismissed as not important. Yet their work is of utter importance and should be recognized and validated as such. Projects like these have that effect. It is made clear that efforts are essential for well-functioning democratic societies.
Sports, arts, and culture are powerful tools
Used creatively and innovatively sports and arts appeal to young people, wherever they are and whatever situations they face. The choice of possibilities in sports and arts is more extensive than usually assumed and should be not informed by mainstream values but rather by the preferences and means available of the target audiences
“Sports has the strongest calling power for young people. The main reason for this is the possibility of movement in which they can conduct tension. In civic spaces in all three areas, arts, sport and culture, it is important that participants experience free self expression, belonging and acceptance. Giving and receiving acceptance is very important to them. In civic spaces, young people are specifically looking for activities in which they experience these feelings.” Youth worker from Hungary
‘It takes a village’
Successful interventions are the result of strong support if not the involvement by a wide group of stakeholders, especially at community level. Sometimes these stakeholders must be made aware that they have indeed, or should have, a strong interest in creating and opening up civic spaces for everybody. Such stakeholders should, therefore, not only comprise youth workers, politicians, but also shopkeepers, schools, training institutions, taxi drivers, media people, other NGOs, religious leaders, researchers, etc. Building partnerships, advocacy and awareness raising are indispensable elements of a successful intervention. This is very much to ask, and often NGOs do not have the capacity [e.g. personnel, time, resources, networks] to accomplish it.
The risks, opportunities, and unknowns of the online world
Many youth workers welcome social media as a useful civic space for young people ‘living in the margin’, plead for enabling them to get the means and the wherewithal to ‘be on line’, but at the same time, is worried about the impact of ‘fake news’ and is looking for ways to protect young people against it.
“The online world, this is the space they occupy, they are there all day. They use a variety of spaces online and live in another world. Online, you have to communicate very quickly, differently, catch them in a second (you can also lose them in a second). Catch and keep their attention and you can discuss ‘wider’ things concerning their well-being and ‘space’.” Youth worker from the Netherlands
Written by ISA