All young people deserve the chance to dream
11 Aug 2017 by Dragana Jovanovska, Secretary General, Center for Intercultural Dialogue (CID), fYR Macedonia
We often say everyone deserves to have the same opportunities, and everyone should be given a chance to follow their dreams. But what does that actually mean? Is that just a bunch of words we say because it sounds nice? If not, how do we put it into practice?
A 17-year-old girl changed the way I see things. She came from school to the Youth Centre where I work one day. She told me she heard from some friends that there is an opportunity for paid volunteership abroad. I was happy to explain what it was about, and even happier to hear she would like to go. She just needed to finish her CV and motivation letter, and we would schedule an interview.
But after a few moments of discomfort, she finally told me she could not do any of these things. She was living in a remote village, had no computer or internet access at home. So we sat down and completed all the required steps together, and eventually, she got the volunteer position.
But what if this girl hadn’t heard about the volunteering opportunity from her friends? What if she didn’t have the daring spirit to try something new? What if she was too shy to approach me or to admit that she did not have the resources to finish her application?
Young people’s access to opportunities to shape their own lives is limited by the recent traumas caused by the unstable environment in the Western Balkans. Recent armed conflicts, nationalism, hate, and corruption all factor into the feeling of powerlessness and hopelessness towards the future. Often the lack of support and guidance for young people means they are forced to make difficult decisions, such as leaving their home countries to emigrate, to take different grey-market jobs, or to sit and hope for a better future.
Non-privileged young people usually don’t even hear about the opportunities that are out there for them. Looking at the situation today in my country, but also in the broader region of Western Balkans, I see how young people’s access to opportunities depends a lot on their socio-economic status. It’s ironic that those living in relative poverty cannot truly access the services, programmes and support which exist for them in the first place. The constant growth of the Gini index is a sign that the gap between the rich and poor is only getting bigger around me.
As if socioeconomic inequalities weren’t enough, new innovations make things worse, as each technological invention is even less accessible by underprivileged youth and serves to make them comparatively less and less skilled.
Our challenge today is to reduce the gap instead of widening it, and ensure that all innovations have embedded in them a social component which make them accessible to all.
Many people, like myself, are working towards that. Our youth centre, MultiKulti, supported by UNDP MK, is one of the organisations working to provide systematic support to young people through youth work provision. We are a team of youth work professionals with backgrounds in non-formal education, social work, psychology, animation and more. We are able to provide constant support to local youth just by being their professional friends. But we cannot do it alone. We need more and more people to join this fight.
At MultiKulti, we base our work on what young people want. When we receive an idea, we provide personal and professional support as well as resources to them so they can make their dreams come alive. In practice, this means that we do not enforce our agenda, but let young people propose their own. For us, it’s not about the number of young people which you gather within a project, but truly about making a difference, case by case. One person at a time.
I saw the 17-year-old girl once she got back from abroad. She was thrilled, full of positive experiences and emotions, eager for more challenges and new quests in life. Today she is enrolled in a university, completing her studies and working a part-time job. The volunteering experience gave her something powerful: the courage to dream more. It might be one case in hundreds, but for me, it’s only one by one that we can close the ever-widening gap.
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