YOUTH EMPOWERMENT FUELS RENEWAL in TUZLA, BOSNIA
By Monika Kleck
Simin Han is part of the town of Tuzla in northeast Bosnia-Herzegovina—a place with many problems but also a lot of potential for renewal and reintegration. Bosnia is a country in the aftermath of war, still divided into two entities. Its war-destroyed economy is still weak and dependent on the support of the international community and resources. It is a country in the process of transition and recovery, the internal return of displaced people, with an unpredictable and insecure future.
Simin Han is characterized by: war damage, including ruined social, economic, and cultural infra-structure; many displaced families and widespread poverty; a high unemployment rate (80%); and lack of community cohesion. In the autumn of 2001, Simin Han had a population of twelve thousand, about 85% of whom were displaced persons who came during the war. Although they have lived in Simin Han for more then eight years now, many displaced persons—especially young people—have never gotten settled in the area. They are still in a state of transition, “homelessness,” and insecurity. They feel that their future has been destroyed by events they did not cause; often these feelings are accompanied by apathy and a sense of a lack of control over the future.
Youth empowerment and community renewal, active participation of young people and the community as a whole, are urgently needed in Simin Han; they are also key elements of any attempt to achieve sustainable democratic development and improve the quality of life in this part of Tuzla.
Goals of Youth Empowerment
The Youth Empowerment Partnership Program (YEPP) seeks to empower young people by motivating and encouraging them towards self-initiative and the development of new activities to organize their free time and enhance the growth of their personality. Through many different projects, we want to increase young people's awareness of the country's real situation, and provide them with knowledge about areas of life such as employment, education, ecology, politics, social behavior, civil society, active citizenship, social action, volunteerism, leisure time, drug and alcohol abuse, etc. We hope to include and involve young people in community undertakings in ways will help them to integrate into and identify with their larger community.
The YEPP Program in Simin Han focuses on:
• empowerment of young people through the support of education and training, strengthening employability, entrepreneurship, self-initiative and self-organizing;
• development of democratic culture and social cohesion through the promotion of tolerance and civil society programs;
• rebuilding the community and re-construction of infra-structure through the promotion of active citizenship and community action;
• promotion of public-private-independent sector partnerships.
We have begun a number of projects that aim at these goals, including:
Community Building and Community Action
The creation of the Agora, a central community space, has finally been completed through the refurbishment of the old District Administration Building of Simin Han; the official opening was the 21st of September. A new donor, the English NGO Network for Social Change, will fund the internal activities for the first year. Therefore, the community will have its meeting place, which had been missing, where it can organize lots of activities in the fields of culture, information, and education. The Agora is in the middle of the community, where people can meet and organize themselves and have joint activities. It will be a place of information, of cultural events, and of democracy in action. The activities there will focus on dialogue and exchange, culture, dispersing of information, computer and Internet access, as well as training and education.
The new Agora is being organized in a genuinely democratic way: self-organized, and run by the local people. Through meetings and discussions with all the possible actors who participate in the project (like pensioners, women's, and girls groups), the newly hired coordinator has been identifying and consulting with all of the human resources in this new structure. In this way, right from the beginning, the Agora is developing democracy within the community, because the local population is contributing to the decision-making process.
For example, in the Agora, the “girls' group” plans its own activities by itself, whether these be activities with small children, some artistic enterprise, etc. The co-ordinator simply gives them the instruments to “organize” their ideas in an efficient way: using a “concrete future planning table,” he stimulates them to think about the resources that they have, what they need, how much time is available for the implementation, and who will be the responsible person for them.
Democracy and Entrepreneurship Learning
In the context of employment and business development, training for small business has taken place, organized by an NGO from Tuzla. The course is free and is aimed at young people. Participants—50% women—were satisfied, because the training has offered them the knowledge and instruments for eventually establishing their own business in the future. Trainings of this sort motivate youngsters to find a solution for their problems in their own country, offering them a different perspective than moving.
A collecting and selling location for agricultural products has been opened; we call it, “The Point.” The preparation phase had taken a relatively long time, because of the difficulty in finding competent and trustworthy partners in the private sector and in providing the legal framework, but now the project is running. The room chosen for collecting the products is situated in the same place that houses the YEPP coordinator's office; this makes it easier for her to oversee. A market analysis was completed, and a list of goods to be collected, along with their prices, has been prepared and distributed. This project has an immediate effect on people and will link them to the region, while encouraging them to better know their own terrain.
The Point is also a center for education and training in the area of agriculture. The first attempt to arrange a course for products like mushrooms and flowers has not really been successful, because of the lack of participation. The reason for this is the changing in the population, where the people from the rural area move back to their villages. But the opening of the Point with the possibility of earning some money should motivate people to participate and improve their skills. With this purpose the co-ordinator of The Point has also organized a lesson on medical herbs for 12 women, and another one with the inhabitants of a village where many people have come back (Snagovo).
Education and Training
In June, 2003 the pilot project on Vocational Orientation came to a close. During the preceding year, pupils in the 8th grade of the Primary School of Simin Han made numerous visits to different enterprises and institutions, such as post office, hospital, hairdresser and so on, situated in Tuzla. These visits gave them the opportunity to know some professions more closely and to make an informed choice of the secondary school, with more motivation.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina children have no possibility to have first-hand practical experiences during their school time. Most of them have an idealistic view of some professions and when they start studying in the secondary school, they leave the school disappointed.
After this experience, the School of Simin Han, the representatives of the private and public sector and the YEPP staff have decided to continue the project and to extend it, also involving pupils in the 7th grade. New actors will be included in order to offer a wider range of professions and the practical side will be longer. The positive reactions of all actors show the need of supporting children in planning their future, as well as the wish to strengthen the partnership between private and public companies and the school.
One of the major problems of Simin Han—as in the whole of Bosnia Herzegovina—is the lack of knowledge in ecological matters: waste management, recycling, and how to use and preserve resources properly. There is rubbish all around the countryside, thrown into the rivers or dumped in the wilderness.
Meanwhile, the Primary School in Simin Han has started to collect paper in separate containers in the schoolyard, often organizing pupils to collect and bring old paper in order to deliver it nicely sorted to the local waste collection company.
YEPP has already implemented the project of cleaning the schoolyard and organizing children to preserve that standard. Our next step is a joint project between a Primary School in Simin Han, Freudenberg Foundation in Tuzla, and 3 E—Society for education, ecology and economics from Tuzla. We call this project the “Ecology Training Campaign in Simin Han.” The main topics of the training are: healthy food, recycling, clean water, and medical issues arising from the environment. The campaign will concentrate on cleaning and preserving the environment, collecting paper and plastic, strengthening the participants in their ecological awareness, creating activism, and including the community in the work of the school.
The most important structural change which has occurred recently is the official establishment of the Community Foundation. This new citizens' institution, which runs the Agora, has institutionalized co-operation and partnerships within the community; it should guarantee the sustainability of the YEPP program, after its formal conclusion in 2005. The Community Foundation's statute affirms that the Foundation's goal is “to develop the community, in particular the situation of young people, culture, education, ecology, social activities and infrastructures. It works in the spirit of democracy, openness, tolerance....It wants to motivate the maximum number of citizens, especially young people, to participate in democratic processes and in the management of the community destiny ”.
The future will show whether the Community Foundation will reach its expectations. Its goals are ambitious but the way in which the new structure has been constituted (involving people of the community in the beginning of the planning process and later in every decision-making process) should help guarantee its success. In fact, the Foundation has developed a sense of ownership and of responsibility for the community.
The Context and Framework
Tuzla–Simin Han is one of several YEPP centers, all located in areas which have a crucial need to re-establish social cohesion for the benefit of young people and the wider communities. In all of these sites aspects of youth and community development are already being addressed by a variety of interventions from the public, private and independent sectors.
Within YEPP, Simin Han is linked with other towns and regions in Europe, like Mannheim (Germany), Lille (France), Kristinestad (Finland), and Antwerp (Belgium). In the near future it will be further linked with sites in the UK, Ireland, Italy and the United States. Through study visits and the exchange of experience, YEPP Simin Han will have intensive exchanges with the all of other YEPP sites.
UPDATE: You can now follow the development of the YEPP project on the internet under the following address:
Besides that, we are going forward with our plan; we plan to found a cooperative in the school....
Monika Kleck, is the local coordinator of YEPP of Tuzla-Siman Han.Include the citation below and GEO Newsletter grants permission to copy, use, and distribute this article.
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