Youth work and NGO sector in Yelgava and Zemgale Region
Job-Shadowing March 18 – 31, 2019 / Latvia – JELGAVA & RIGA
Fellow: Meri Kadagidze, Georgia
Youth work and youth centers: what so they do and how?
Job shadowing program included visits in the youth centers, which are located in the countryside and in the city. We visited youth centers with our mentors and sometimes with volunteers. It should be noted that that youth centers, how it is organized in this region and Latvia itself was a completely new experience for me and that is why every visit was super interesting. Youth workers and managers were supportive and welcoming, also eager to answer our questions and help us to understand what do they do and why.
Youth centers are established due to create a safe space for children and youth, encourage them and support to develop their own ideas, core competences and have got the sense of belonging to the community.
Usually youth center are open space for youth where they spend free time, play, discuss important issues with each other, do their homework, or anything else. Despite of this, Youth worker and Managers have a general plan of the activities and events. For instance, they suggest English classes, sport competitions, cultural evenings and some art and craft lessons, even DJ workshops to the children and youngsters. In addition, they celebrate Christmas, Easter and all national holidays with children. Everyday youth workers and manager take care of the youth centers with volunteers who are coming from different countries (EVS volunteers).
It should be noted that the way in which the youth center is working is strongly depended on the location, target group and resources allocated for this center. For instance, in the Anne youth center children come from unprivileged families, or they have other problems in their own families, so the center is a safe place for them to stay when they do not want to spend time at home. Contrary, Youth center in Virtsava was much better equipped and more focused on promoting non-formal learning. They are suggesting youngsters to attend woodwork workshops (lessons are delivered by specialists). EleJa also focused on creating a common space for youngsters and provide need based non-formal education, such as career planning sessions, which was really interesting and helpful to observe.
Yunda, youth center in Yelgava city is very different from the centers in rural areas, as it is an organization, which provides different classes to the children and youth. It is mostly focused to suggest extra curriculum activities to the children such as computer classes, Lego classes, arts and crafts classes, wood etc. All the services provided Yunda are free for the children who live in Yelgava and it costs a very little amount of money for others. (8 euro for per class).
As a result of the hard work of youth workers and also volunteers young people have opportunity to gather and work together, organize event , enjoy themselves and also speak up and fight for more opportunities. Active and motivated youngsters even created a youth councils, which meet municipality heads, discuss their challenges and issues with them regularly.
Daily life of youth centers and engage with youngsters were a great experience, but I was also interested how the youth policy and youth work is organized on policy level and how it is implementing and administrated. After meeting with local authorities and youth center coordinators and managers, difference between youth work in country and city become very clear.
Firstly, it should be noted Yelgava city council and department, which is responsible on youth work, have very different organizational culture from the municipality of Yelgava, which are responsible on youth work in the rural areas. Depend on my personal observations it was clear that in the first case, city youth work is more formalized and youth center such Yunda are more like service providers. Contrary, in the rural areas youth work less formalized and more based on the initiatives, which are com from the youngsters. To simplify this, in the rural areas we met youngsters and youth workers who were talking about what “they are doing together” and what youngsters are doing for themselves and others but in Jelgava youth center we mostly heard about what was planned for youngsters , what services they can use. Furthermore, it was very inspiring to hear stories of youngsters who become out workers after several years and you hear from them how they asked municipality to open new youth centers in their villages.
Other Non-governmental organizations in Riga &Yelgava:
During our stay in Latvia, we also visited Civic Alliance Latvia, Social Entrepreneurship association, Association for culture and lifelong learning development “VITAE” and Resource Centre for Woman “Marta”, Young farmers association and association “NATRE”. Each organization works in different field and on different issues/ Civic Alliance Latvia is an umbrella organizations which support NGOs in Latvia and advocate for developing NGO sector , Association for culture and lifelong learning development “VITAE develops training modules and programmes for the teachers in Latvia, while Natre is organizing cultural events in Yelgava and Riga. Each organization’s members share information about their work with us, also explained how they face challenges every single day.
Those organizations and their work were especially thought provoking for me because of three reasons:
- They are doing a great job, but in most cases with limited resources, included human resources: I was listening to the presentations and was thinking that maybe 10-20 people were working in that organizations ,but surprisingly in some organizations they had only 1 paid employee(Young farmer association ), also in the civic Alliance they only had got 4-5 employee. Several organizations were working 100 % online (Natre). IT showed me that even in this situation organizations can work properly and use other tools to organize events and involve their target groups: join forces with other organizations, involve local and international volunteers, ask things services what they need, not money and etc.
- Different working strategies with young people in the schools: Civic alliance and Resource Centre for Woman “Marta” shared their experience of working with children and youth in the schools. This was interesting for me as the education specialist. For instance, Civic alliance use their own approach and lead the discussions in the schools about the most challenging issues for the children, then children age 12-15 prepare small projects and in case of getting funds implement their project in the school. Resource Centre developed another interesting approach for Woman “Marta”. This organization has established a school based discussion spaces, separately for girls and boys and help children to share their concerns and challenges which makes them ashamed or just make them uncomfortable to share with their parents”, also they are organizing events for all students and talk to them about gender, human rights, importance of education, included sexual education.
- I found out that those organizations also face similar challenges every single day like in Georgia. Especially when it comes to change social norms, or go agonies the decision makers. Resource Centre for Woman “Marta” gave us good examples how they work with government institutions, also with the woman deputies to make them work together despite their ideology and political affiliation.
Overall, without any hesitations, all the visits and activates related to the NGOs and their works was informative and inspiring for me and I’m happy that 2 organization was ever to help me in my project and they are eager to take part in more complex ND long term projects if I start and get funds for it.
Zemgale NGO center
I have decide to speak about The Zemgale NGO center last, as it was our host organizations and I only reflect on the experience I had with the organization members and volunteers.
Firstly, I have never expected to find out myself in such a welcoming environment and with openhearted and nice people. Every single person in the organization was trying their best to support us and help to experience more in our short-term programme. We took part in English club and English class meetings, which were super nice experience for me, we had chance to help the organization staff members in event management(BADU Project presentation). They had developed agenda and arranged everything for us; also, it was very nice when every organization we visited had been informed beforehand and welcomed us.
In Zemgale NGO center, I also experienced a very flexible, open and friendly working culture. Despite of formal meetings and visits, It was very useful to hear the personal experiences from the organization’s members and ask them questions how they solve problems in daily life, how they work with other organizations and people from different background.
For my learning and reflection process, feedback meeting was very useful and Uldis helped me to reflect on my job-shadowing process and focus on the process more.
I should emphasize that Volunteers (EVS) made it easier to communicate with the host organizations; also, Volunteers did plan some activities for us to enjoy our staying in Latvia and got as much positive energy as it is possible.
During job shadowing, I met Enthusiast skillful and determined people with great ideas. The whole experience was fascinating and inspiring for me, but I would like to share the main lessons I lent during job shadowing:
- Limited resources does not limit your opportunities: I felt how important networking and storytelling skills are, when met people who were creating amazing projects from zero budget. In addition, I believe that it is crucial for every single activist, youth worker or just a person with ideas.
- Focus on results but enjoy with the process: This is what I have learnt from the people in Zemgale NGO center. Results are important for our projects, but everyone need to celebrate small success and accomplishments, as exhausted people are not productive.
- Small steps lead to the biggest results: Another great lesson from every single organization I have visited. It helped me to realize that I cannot achieve my overall goals and change the world in a second but I have to start from small, activities, projects, because small initiatives together are a good bassline for a huge change.
- Participation means to give a power and involve not inviting: I have less expertise in youth work and this is the key idea what I have glanced during the job shadowing. In every youth center, it was clear that youngsters could take initiatives and they were much happier to be engaged and to lead the process than to be invited to take part in the activities, which was planned by someone else.
What I would like to bring to Georgia?
This experience served to my personal development a lot, but also gave me some good ideas to develop in my community.
The first thing what I‘ve already started to implement is to support creating an active platform for international volunteers in Georgia and engage them with schools. I have started a peer education project for schools, in which international volunteers find Georgian peers and together they visit schools in the rural areas.
Second, I would like to start a career advising and guides programme in the schools and these ideas was born during the job shadowing in Latvia. Furthermore, I would like to start an advocacy campaign in order to support creating youth centers in the rural areas.
To sum up, I can say that this was a life-changing experience for me and it was my honor to be part of every single activity and meet every single person during my staying in Latvia.