Being 29 years old, and having at least 7 years of experience in youth work, I am still facing the dillema regarding my own perspective on what reconcilliation and peace are, and what is the role of an everyday citizen in it.
After my vast youth work background, and wide peacebuilding education experience, I have an issue to explain briefly, and from my heart, what is peace for me. I’m not even sure if I live peacefully. I’m of an opinion that if you really start to feel it, not just to understand it cognitively, you are living it, and you have a skill to mutliply it in your local community and its members, as it is by its nature. Therefor, the question is: what is the nature of peacefull reconcilliation?
Critical thinking is the prerequisite for personal development. Everything around us should be taken into consideration and objectively percieved as a reality in which we live in. If so, why I am unhappy about citizen awareness in Serbia? Why I am not happy with the life of people in my country? Objectively, we are one of the countries in Europe striked with poverty. We have an enormeous challenge of respecting human rights when it comes to education, work, shelter/home, health and security. Sometimes, I am rather frustrated because of that. Human rights, democracy and rule of law are not the values of my country, not in their truest form. We have a lot of laws and legislation harmonized with the regulations of the EU. But, are they applied in reality? Are citizens of Serbia active and free users of them?
As a practitioner I have had these and other similar questions and doubts, sometimes with more or less success when trying to answer them.
Recently I have participated in a Living Library in Smedereveo, where I was one of the books, titled “Youth Worker”. Shortly, the Living Library is an event, aimed to deconstruct prejudices of citizens about different marginalized groups of people, which have had real life experience with discrimination. Books are the people who come from such groups and readers have a chance to rent a book for half an hour and explore and deconstruct the stereotypes about these groups of people. During this experience, the vast majority of readers with whom I spoke to were beginning the conversation with a very simple question: „What is Youth Work? Who the hell are those so called youth workers?“
Although I was really struggling to adjust my answers to the age of my readers and to be focused to give an age-friendly response, the process of being a book and being asked a number of really interesting questions, this intire experience resulted in a self-reflection process on the youth worker’s role and its positions and contributions to regional peace. Although the process of verification and recognition of my competence and experience (aka sexy word „validation“) was finished this year through NAPOR project, Living Library was able to completely tackle some doubts inside me and shoot me into the depths of serious thoughts regarding values and the purpose of youth activism as a part of youth work. My brain just did not leave me alone and the constant presence of three basic questions occured: What is Youth Work? Who are the youth workers? What did I do as a youth worker to promote culture of peace and reconcilliation in my local community?
Of course, it became further complicated when I needed to face the biggest challenge to actually formulate a response in accordance to the context of our society. Because, admittedly, youth work is still quite invisible to the general population, especially to young people. Usually, when someone shares their opinions and/or prejudices, they mainly associate it with communism, Tito, some workshops of non-governmental organizations, extra-curricular activities of pupils etc. Most of the things that those same people said were not so far from the truth…
To me the quest for the right answers was not difficult nor too challenging, taking into account that I’m familliar with youth work equally both in theory and in practice. One of the major obstacles in conceptualizing the response is to formulate it in a way understandable to everyone, no matter the socio-economic context they are coming from. When you’re surrounded by people coming from the same/similar professions, you can easily articulate the answer, simply because there is an understanding on so many different levels.
During this self-reflection on youth work, it has basically opened the gates of hell with other issues: What is youth work for me? Who am I in all of this? What is my role? Many other issues were raised during the validation process also: What are the limits of my work? What do I want to achieve? What do I want to offer young people?
Many of these issues sound pretty basic for youth workers. But I have to admit that I have forgotten about them. In dealing with youth work as well as anything else, they pushed me to the assumptions and the automatism. And those two might be the greatest enemies of the process of personal and professional development. A lot of things might also limit our critical thinking and recognizing our own personal needs for learning.
Am I still closer to the answer? Maybe. For sure, I am aware of what Youth Work has done to me and for me throughout my life, and how I felt when I was part of it, in the role of a young person who was then a part of a different process, and now, in the role of the youth worker. The moment when we KNOW these benefits, satisfactions, and the challenges, fears, all those processes that were a part of our development and the people who were responsible for them, we will be closer to our own understanding of peace and local community, from both a youth worker’s and an active citizen’s perspective.
It’s nice to celebrate International Day of Europe... To be reminded of the struggle and the victory against fascism. But I cannot escape the strong impression that this world is still living in social injustice. Europe and the EU today is experiencing an identity crisis, and that influences EU’s efforts to deal with all forms of hatred. How to expect societies and countries who are not even close to EU membership to be responsible and take an active role in impelementing five basic values of EU? It is quite a challenge, I must say. The Republic of Serbia is still nurturing fascism, by establishing political parties with such programs, through internalized oppression, through a completely non-recognition of equality, inclusion and equal opportunities for all, as basic human values that still adorn a good part of the EU. Violence can sometimes seem a very socially desirable behavior in Serbia. Corruption is a way of doing business. I am not angry anymore, just simply tired of it. Tired of our politicians, their promises, of young people leaving the country, and what is worse, constantly questioning myself whether I should do the same. All I know is that we have to deal and fight against these fears. Everyday I celebrate what I have. I am striving to be happy before and after the Day of Europe – without hatred, with the hope and the love of life, work and people.
One of my favorite memories are the moments when I was on the street demonstration durin 90’, as in my family the activism was quite nurtured amongst its members. To be honest until the end, I started feeling discomfort when I compare myself and passion left during those times of demonstration and today, during youth work. I’m not quite sure if I am now fully aware of my actual responsibility for creating the setting where young people could shape themselves in future activists and decision makers. Maybe I could do better. I would like to be bigger change-caster for young people…Completely unexpected reflections on the past and present, of the “street” activism and validation…There is a huge space for further reflection…
What remains at the end is that strange and terrible conformity. Conformism, and life challenging me every year that I am not immune to injustice, violation of human rights, that still what matters to me is what is going on in my local community. A very, very strange, almost unnatural situation, for someone who has been on the streets for a long time and worked on it to ensure young people have at least a slightly better reality and space to think for themselves. It is as if I need a dose of adrenaline, electric shock that will shake this lethargy in me and inspire others and truly awake the collective consciousness: „Hey, this cannot go on like this!“ We shouldn’t forget that peace is the most important aspect of a society, that culture of peace should be a lifestyle of all people in all local communities. But for me it imposes a lot of challenging questions: „What is an innovative approach and challenging thing to do, to peacefully engage people from my reality?“ Is it possible and if so: how and where? When? This could be a good project, different, more engaging, much more personal. I invite all the people to go over this again and ask themselves: „Am I happy with this?“… Because I do not know the answer to that question. Are we a happy society as long as our collective conciosness is like an old wooden music box that plays the same tune to our ears but completely rotting from the inside?
Until we find the right answer, let youth work be with you and within you!