This is Youth- Act
Youth ACT is a capacity building project in the field of youth (CBY) within the framework of the Erasmus + program of the European Commission. The general objective of Youth ACT is to raise the level of awareness, capacity for joint action of young leaders to contribute to a broadening and deepening of the practice of democracy and democratic values, through quality non-formal training and fully accessible in civic participation. The program offers them the ability to become bridge builders and participation facilitators, particularly in the case of marginal minorities, to grow these groups in a sense of belonging while contributing to our societies with their ideas and perspectives making them richer, more various. and more peaceful. 2 Universities, 1 Institute of Higher Studies and 13 youth-led organizations, located in Europe and America, participate in this project.
YOUTH –ACT – Youth for participation and democratic values
A programme in 22 cities, 13 countries in the Americas and Europe
This story responds to an experience of a project carried out by a group of youth work associations and three universities, coordinated by Education for an Interdependent World and carried out by groups of young people who participated from 22 cities: Buenos Aires, Chicago and Miami, Rio de Janeiro, Sapucai and Taquaritinga, Cochabamba and La Paz, Lima and Villa Salvador, Cunco, Santo Domingo, Mexico, Chiapas and Toluca, Brussels, Paris, Rome, Madrid and Barcelona, Lisbon and Porto Given the success of this project, we can ask ourselves: Why was it launched? And also, what is its background? These two questions are fundamental to understanding its nature and the forces that shaped it. The background can be traced back to an international group of young people brought together from participation in two previous youth capacity building projects: Roots and Wings and Youth for Dialogue.
Youth-Act was born out of reflections and debates on the state of democratic values. During 2018 young people worked in focus groups concluding that there was an urgent need to deepen democracy, active participation and to deepen the real meaning and practice of democratic values. They reported a need for: higher levels of understanding, more developed skills and higher levels of joint engagement in order to have an impact. Motivation arose from the need to be prepared as active and responsible citizens, impressed by the rediscovered richness of true democracy and the need to be prepared to work for it. After an analysis of the value of democracy and the state of the art globally, a joint perspective on the importance of participation was reached in two special aspects:
(1) youth participation, as it was considered a fundamental right of every person and also the cornerstone of our democratic systems. Therefore, it was considered fundamental to achieve it for different generations, but especially for youth, as it is participation that gives young people the tools and fosters
their responsibility to grow as citizens. Participation in decision-making was considered a key priority area of the UN youth agenda because young people are an important resource for development and key actors of social change, economic growth and technological innovation. The experience of being part of it is what empowers, and enables them to take on an important role in society, which belongs to them more than anyone else; as it is young people who will be affected by decisions for the longest time and are called to build the future with their new ways of perceiving things and their new talents, which are needed in all contexts, but especially when democratic values seem to be in question in many places. In this sense, it was considered essential to train cohorts of young people in civic participation. The decision to participate in Youth Act was a response to a number of findings. One of these was the
perception that trends of diminishing democratic rights are present in many parts of the world. In addition, young people tend to be late entrants to participation in society. But they know they have a role in society and are willing to take it on. They can enrich society with their perspectives and talents.
(2) But beyond their participation there was, from the very beginning, another common theme: these young people sought to broaden the participation of minorities in order to channel energies in a positive and peaceful way, working for the inclusion of all people without allowing any marginalisation or
discrimination. The project carried within itself a crossover of dimensions – global, European, national, regional and local that constantly intersected in the project.
These proposals are also in line with EU policies in terms of inclusion and has a great synergy with the EU Youth Strategy (2019-2027), in terms of emphasis on cooperation based on the principles of active participation and equal access to opportunities and the powerful link with the core areas of the youth sector, a youth that must be: engaged, connected, empowered.
Elements of Youth Act
Youth Act was planned with two axis one vertical, coming from an international, central perspective, which marked the work of the different groups following the design of the project. The other was horizontal introducing the variety of local contexts. In other words: a path was offered and this was contextualized in each country and city. This resulted in a number of characteristics:
1-A two-year non-formal programme of learning focusing on a new and relevant issue- participation and democratic values. A topic, considered of high importance in democratic societies, even more in our times, even more focusing on youth.
2-A learning which was done in collaboration between the youth of two continents, the Americas and Europe, allowing for comparisons and a variety of perspectives but keeping the limits so as to gain in depth.
3-An innovative road map with high level content and possibility for analysis together with a well- developed set of experiences to develop competences and commitment in the participants, including attitudes.
4-A strong emphasis in collaborative learning favoured by an online, interactive platform, the practice of webinars, the experiences of immersion working in small groups of different cultural backgrounds in different projects, the mobility seminars to share the experiences developed in the different local groups and the joint interaction in the social media.
5-The interaction between highly motivated youth eager to learn, prepared to lead the activities and committed to push participation for all, the experienced and well- prepared experts contributing to the programme on key issues and other groups of young people from more vulnerable and challenged backgrounds, whose participation empowered youth leaders,
6- The combination of the different levels of participation in the programme, going from a very strong action and awareness at local level, moving to the national and the international in fora such as the analysis of a country, in this case Perú, or in the event which took place in United Nations at the end of the programme in June 2022.
7-Based on the success of former experiences, the groups were able to build, within the general framework, common to all, their personalised path and plan of action for each semester to be presented and analysed in their get together points.
8-The introduction of a specialised activities in the field of technologies was a significant innovation since this allowed higher levels of learning in different fields such as the role of the image in communication for the new generations, being able to facilitate dissemination at high level and making tools for further understanding.
9-Participation in the programme was based on interest and this meant that a very intense and youth led programme was within the reach of all who were prepared to commit in terms of time and energy.
10-The preparation and the participation in the UN for a representative from each group and the possibility of being represented by their own colleagues at the Headquarters of United Nations was a critical event contributing to a high-level experience of global participation.
Youth-Act was planned to be developed in 4 semesters starting with a launch in America (Buenos Aires) and Europe (Brussels) in November 2019. It was planned to be presented to two young leaders from each group who in turn took on the task of first training with the general coordination group and then contextualising and leading each of the groups. It started with groups in 13 cities in 13 countries. At the end, it reached 21 groups in 20 cities in 13 countries. It was planned that each semester would end with a face-to-face meeting: an international seminar where the leaders of the groups or whoever was chosen to represent them would meet to present the work carried out, gather the contribution of the other groups and be able to explain it to the participants of their reference group on their return, and receive and prepare, together with the general coordination, the following semester to contextualize it and work on it with a view to the next meeting. Only one of the semesters ended with a webinar in which all groups participated. This was the planning. In this way it was possible to hold the meeting of the American and European coordinating groups and the first international seminar in Madrid. The Madrid seminar ended in mid-February 2020 and all participants were able to return to their home countries just before the first wave of the pandemic broke out. It was planned that each semester would end with a face-to-face meeting – an international seminar where the leaders of the groups or those who were chosen to represent them would meet to present the work done, collect the input from the other groups and be able to explain it to the participants of their reference group on their return and receive and prepare together with the general coordination the following semester to contextualize it and work on it for the next meeting. Only one of the semesters ended with a webinar in which all groups participated. In this way, the meeting of the coordinating groups of America and Europe and the first international seminar in Madrid could take place. The Madrid seminar ended in mid-February 2020 and all participants were able to return to their home countries just before the first wave of the pandemic broke out.
The first semester was dedicated to working on youth participation policies, because first of all it was important to analyse the reality, who were the actors and the objectives that were sought, it was also important to compare what already existed and to see what was possible. It ended with an international seminar full of experiences where each of the groups from Europe and America had workshops and general meetings with an intense intellectual, methodological and experiential content. The sessions were so interesting that they continued spontaneously after dinner. But when we returned, the pandemic had already begun, which radically changed the plans.
The second semester was supposed to end with work designed at the central level, to be done in the local groups, on the theme of communication and information for true participation and topped off by a trip to Peru, to share the reflections, but this did not happen, but the groups did the work with virtual meetings and the semester ended with two webinars: one on the pandemic and the other on information and communication in relation to citizenship. Webinars lasting more than three hours and with more than one hundred participants.
The other two semesters were extended by another year, although work continued at a very good pace. The third semester dealt with decision-making in participation. This also closed with another webinar and opened the fourth semester, which lasted a year until August 2022, when the remaining seminars could finally take place: the New York seminar on UN and global participation in June, and the Peru seminar and district, national and regional participations in August, coupled with an immersion experience. This long period was equally intense in preparation for an important work that was planned to work on minority participation, in which each group had to choose a minority and work with them on their participation. Several projects were born out of this period, perhaps one of the most creative in the midst of the ups and downs of the pandemic waves. The annex contains the guidelines that were presented for the work of the groups. In the last part of the extension there were many more guides that covered the work that was never abandoned until it was closed on October 14, 2022, after the trip to Peru and the immersion, also adapted, since in Peru we lived its sixth wave of COVID (GUIDES of the process in the annex).
The following text is composed of a collection of narratives from the different local groups recounting their own experiences, work, paths, deliberations and decisions taken until the end of the project. The style andlevel of detail have been respected. Behind each is a shared story, a passionate search for answers and the new questions that arise from those answers, in order to go further. In general, they are their own voices, except in the case of EDIW Madrid where the voice of a journalist who has been invited to write from this group’s thread has also been incorporated, as recorded in the SLACK platform. The platform that each group used to communicate within the group and with all the other local groups named after the cities where they started to meet and from where they connected during the pandemic.
The meeting in Peru in August 2021 was one of the final moments of the Youth Act project, it was not planned but the pandemic made it so. The group of young people who were there, almost 50, had come to represent more than 400 young people who had been impacted by this project in 19 cities in 13 countries in the Americas and Europe. In between, there was a long road ahead, international seminars in Madrid, New York and Peru with a direct attendance of more than two hundred young people, about 150 of whom had come from other countries. Behind were 4 webinars of around 80 people in each language (English and Spanish), since they were split up when there were more than 100 people and lasted three hours, something that could only happen in the years of the pandemic and the confinement, intense years in which, while the waves of COVID alternated and besieged the different countries, some twenty groups of young people dreamt of how to transform the realities close to them to make reality where they saw the intervention
Thus the need and the dream of improving and protecting homeless young people turned into making masks and tool-kits in Chicago and visits and a website for them to find helpful information in Brussels. In Paris they studied and discussed the criteria for the distribution of vaccines, in Chile they dreamt of the greatest participation in the New Constitution Project for the country and they made training “conversatorios” and informative materials for the region of Cunco.
In Barcelona, the dream was that the children with whom the members of the group worked would all beable to do their homework and not fall behind in their education, and they campaigned with companies and groups to get tablets and computers for everyone. In Bolivia they dreamed of bringing information and hope to the population and designed and carried out radio and TV commercials. This was to be the beginning ofthe interesting and well projected documentary that would realize another dream, that of highlighting to themselves and to the country the courage of the simple and heroic women they had met in the Sierra. The documentary was presented in one of the places most recognised by the citizens of Cochabamba. Thus “Adelante mujer” about the women of Pajchapata, “cradle of hard-working and fighting people, established itself as the place that witnessed the most substantial moments that completely transformed our lives.
In Miami, there was a dream of undocumented young people finding full citizenship, and work was done in circles, particularly university circles, so that they would slowly obtain the required documents. In Brazil there was a dream of a fairer valuation and a discovery of a number of simple and courageous working women who struggle and dream as they move forward with their lives and those of their families. Their voices were also heard and much was learned in the process. The respect with which they approached the context, the care for the image of these women and the understanding and balance between the recognition of persons and the interweaving of privacy concerns were lessons that the group masterfully carried out. In the search, the Mexico group discovered the loneliness of older adults and wanted to respond to it, and thus also prepared and carried out awareness-raising, training and actions to be carried out in this new project for them. The Madrid group followed an intense work during the pandemic that was reflected with great clarity in the high number of sessions that were reflected in the slack platform used by all the groups and where their posters announcing the sessions were recorded, their minutes reflecting what was debated and approved, the attendees, the content topics presented, the methodologies followed and that ended with the election of a minority that emerged without choosing it, but rather from what the events were guiding. The outbreak of the war between Western Sahara and Morocco moved the Madrid group, which included some of the university students who came from the Sahrawi camps. A webinar with experts led to the participation of university professors and insights into the context. This gave birth to a project on intercultural digital learning, which raised money for tablets that were sent to the camps. From Madrid, university students taught children in the camps with their tablets from their tents in the middle of the desert. An original project that would later spread to the 4 continents, creating an international team of young volunteers and another, no less international team of students who shared, at the end of 2022, the 9 international classrooms in three different languages. Many ideas emerged and were exchanged between these groups of young people virtually during the intense years of confinement. Several were written or planned, such as the one with the groups from Italy, Portugal, Belgium and Spain that took place in Brussels in April 2022, when they were just starting to be able to travel. This project, called “Dreamers and Doers” went to the essence of what the implementation of dreams entails – how to know how to dream a project and then to know how to communicate and implement it. Youth-Act was born out of the desire to move from idea to action. The dream illuminates and gives impulse and direction, but the action that follows marks life. We would like to end with the words of Alejandra Alcocer: “I believe that this experience deserves to be lived by every reader, as it undoubtedly marks a before and after in your life, it makes you look beyond yourself and your privileges, and makes you understand the importance of continuing to build a world coated with empathy”.