European Experience on Youth

Trough the Netherlands experience and talking to people that are on various ways working with youth such as social workers, youth workers and teachers, I found out one very important platform of thinking.  After all the talking I came to the point. How come that in a country where soft drugs are legal, young people don’t have so much drug problems? At least they are not on the top five problems of youth.

school

Remko, a teacher from one high school in Den Helder explained that you can really work with youth when you give them a safe environment to experiment. By allowing you can take care of them better. “For instance”, Remko said, “if we have a party in the school and we prohibit selling and using of alcohol, they will buy it somewhere else and get drunk to unconsciousness just from rebellion. In this way you can not help a young person.  If we look at this story in a different way and allow them to drink alcohol in front of us, there is no need of hiding. Then we can see how much they are drinking and if it gets over limit, react on time.”

One of his examples was also very interesting. “I wanted to have a beer with my colleague in the school during one celebration. We asked for it but they said that they are not selling it. I came to another colleague of mine who was organizing this event and asked here why teachers can not drink alcohol? She answered that we have to give to our students a positive example. I told her that there is no positive example if there is no choice. “I think he is very right. Positive examples are not inflicted. They are about awareness, in this example.

in the school

I find this both points very true. Are we really caring for young people or we are just satisfying our “moral” rules, even though we are not in this way “moral” at all.

“I would rather drink beer and smoke a cigarette with my student, not judging him or here.” This can bring a lot of trust from young person side, the one that every teacher has to have. Young people are not learning from the persons who think they have an authority, they learn from the ones they feel close in any way.

Each teacher has to set up his or hers goal. Decides on what kind of change he\she wants to produce in young people and on the other side always ask how effective I am in reaching this. This is why Remko runs his classes as projects. Each student has to decide when and how they want to do their task. Remko said “young people have to be challenged by education. Otherwise they are not learning. When we started to talk about evaluation of the teachers and are they taking these tings seriously, he just laughed. Here people are like everywhere else. The point is in the relationship with the student. “If you take them seriously they will be serious.” said Remko.

I must end this post with the most important saying of this Dutch teacher.

“If you want to prohibit anything that you consume, young people will want to resist the system and do it just behind the school corner. If you allow it, it wouldn’t be an act of rebellion anymore.”

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Two beautiful days in this area I will remember by a peaceful nature, big parks and streets, biking and exploring Dutch culture. Comparing the two cultures I can say that some things here are better but some of them not.

For instance I can surly say that Dutch are very clean. Cleaning is a part of their life, houses are tidy, gardens are decorated perfectly, and on the streets you can hardly find trash. Everything seems to be prefect, like a couple on this picture.

Happy Dutch Couple

During this traveling I was thinking “What is it about the Netherlands that makes it so perfect?” I will try to exclude money, although it is very important, because it will make things more complicated and my trip not worth vile. I will do my analysis in a couple of thesis and try to answer this question.

1.  Prevention is the best cure

During my talk with Radna I concluded that Apeldoorn JIP produces brochures as a prevention tool but based on the real questions young people asked. I think that is a very important point. I have the impression that projects for youth in Serbia are not usually based on their real needs, more on the needs of the project funders. Example is the case of lover boys. This seems to be a common problem of Dutch youth by the words of the info workers I talked to.  They do a lot of prevention programs on topics such as Aids and sexually transmitted diseases, money management, working skills etc. Most of the JIPs have the bus so that they can go to schools do workshops and give out the brochures. On the other hand most of the people that are coming to JIPs are homeless or young pregnant woman. Question is: How can you prevent someone being homeless?

For sure there are no homeless on the streets as it is in my country. Does it mean that the Dutch system works? I would say no, because they are instead of streets in the shelters. It is good. At leas they have a roof above their head, but what concerns me is why they become homeless in such a rich country? Maby because the Dutch homeless equals Serbian well situated Roma person.

2. Warm Individualism

Before the meeting Olga and I were in the Apeldoorn city park. At one moment a group of children entered the park and changed the peaceful atmosphere. Few moments after a juggling man came. He was juggling with Diablo, a kind of juggling tool. It only took a couple of seconds for children to notice him. He first acted like he doesn’t care about them and that they are disturbing him. A lot of children started coming to watch him. Then he gave one child to try and directed others to take some more juggling equipment from his bag. Suddenly most of the children were juggling. Split into spontaneous groups they were trying all types of juggling equipment, small sizes just for them. While showing them how to work it, he was always careful to keep them in the shade of the tree. What I like the most is the subtle way he was doing this activity in order to draw and keep children’s attention. I had to make some photos of this. Few moments after, their teacher came. “Are you taking pictures of the children” she asked “They don’t like it”. I deleted the photos but was amazed how she was caring while telling me this.  This situation made me think how Dutch care about the people they do not know. People who work in Apeldoorn JIP help homeless until the end, until they really get to the right place or find the right person. I think they call it professionalism.

Roads

3. Organization

This thesis can be approved by the fact that JIP in Apeldoorn is working closely with the youth organizations, police, parents and other youth stakeholders. They have categories for each question a young person can ask. Of course they do not know the answers to all the questions but for them it is easy to look for it. This kind of systematization helps them work easier and make young people informed.

JIP Apelndoorn

One more fascinating thing about the Dutch is the way their holidays are organized. The whole Netherlands is divided in tree parts – north, central part and south.  During summer time, holiday period is defined for each part of the country. It is organized in such way that when one part is having holiday, the other two are working. A while before the first one finishes the second one starts and so on.

Dutch are using time for preparation. It is very important part of everything they do. Maybe it has to do with rain. You always have to be prepared for it.

Saturday started by caching the train from Den Helder to Rotterdam. I was about to see once again the great harbor with beautiful bridges and architecture. We were supposed to stay in a place we found trough couch surfing network. Ted, our host was surprisingly a street youth worker with a lot of experience and insight into a youth work in Holland.  Most interesting perspectives of his were about emigrants and working in a hospice. From his point of view there are a lot of emigrants in the Netherlands. “Some of the problems we have, start with them”, Ted said.”Young emigrants are in a special situation. On one side there is a free western world they are living in, and on the other side there is their own culture preserved in the family. Sometimes emigrants’ families preserve traditional culture that is in their country of origin already overrun by the modern world.” What we were about to hear in Rotterdam JIP will confirm his saying.

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Our host in JIP was Alexandra. She has been working there for four months now and since had a lot of experience. “Most of young people that come here are the homeless or young pregnant woman. They are desperate and search for help.” She told us a story about a girl who was from an emigrant family. She was physically and mentally abused by here family members until she came to JIP to search for help.  JIP staff called the shelters in order to provide for her at least a place to sleep for a start. But in Netherlands although there are a lot of shelters, there are just few of them for young people bellow 23. So for 3 month JIP specialists were searching for appropriate place for the girl. And just few days ago one shelter called them to say that they have the place for this girl where she could stay for one year.

Alexandra told us that 75 people are working within the organization “Stichting Jong”, which is for me a sound unbelievable. It seems to me that in whole Serbia there are not so many youth workers.

This organization is providing different kind of support programs and services for young people, and JIP is one of them. In order to be as accessible as possible JIP also has a so called “mobile team.” This team, during school time goes with a special bus to three different schools. This way young people can look for information on the spot, right besides their school. Furthermore JIP also provides free of charge tests for STIs/ HIV and pregnancy. Team of experts also gives workshops and trainings in schools about money management, sexuality and growing up, etc.

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Alexandra also showed us the brochures they are making, but one caught our attention. “It is a brochure about lover boys,” Alexandra said. ”Lover boys,” I thought, “these people tell youngsters how to fall in love or what?”

Unfortunately this is not a story about love but about deceit and manipulation of young people. To be worse, done by other young people. The phenomenon of “Lover boys” is now a big issue in the Netherlands.

To make this story closer to you, I will write it as a confession.

”When I was 15, I met a gorgeous boy just few years older than me. He gave a lot of presents and made a lady out of me. Oh, I loved him so much.  After a while he asked me to help him to get out from the debts he had fallen into. I was ready to do everything for him. So I opened my first credit account and surprised him with the money. After that it seemed that he needed more financial help. Unwillingly, but in order to make the love of my life happy, I opened two accounts during 4 month. Shortly all this help didn’t work out. He was in debt over his head. Until I found out that there is another solution. I slept with his creditor. He succeeded to convince me that this was the only time and only way out. Shortly after that he changed a lot. He started to hit me, force me to sleep with other guys, evidentially, his friends. Although I knew that I’m in a big mass, I didn’t want lo leave him, simply because I thought I love him so much. It took my mother two years to get me out of this situation.

Just before three years ago I thought I’m endlessly happily in love and in a blink of an eye I was on the street, earning money for “my Lover boy”…

loverboy14

Many web sites confirm that this is a youth problem number one in the Netherlands. It is really interesting how psychology is standing behind it. This game called falling in love happens only with young girls, usually from emigrants families. Perfect emotional and psychological background for deception. It sounds unbelievable to hear or read how perfidy games young men can play. According to Alexandra the youngest girl was 12, and the youngest boy involved in this phenomenon was just 14 years old. I’m wondering if this world is starting to be so dehumanized that the greatest feeling of falling in love can do so much harm.

“And what do you say to young people through this brochure? How do you advise them so that they can not fall into this trap?” I asked Alexandra.

“We can not forbid them to fall in love just to make them aware of it.”

The beginning of knowledge is the discovery of something we do not understand. Being aware, knowing is the path of prevention.

Officially first day started with a visit to the city of Delft, around 2 hours by train away from Den Helder. This is the city where King of Orange founded Holland. As an old proud man it wears the beautiful canals with lotus flowers, high churches, and the atmosphere of history hidden in the walls of the old buildings.

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Unlike the part of the city that tells a story about history, the info point that we were about to visit was situated in a big new building. As we entered we could see that we are at the right place. Booklets sorted in categories, computers free to use, a little library and a desk. Mrs. Rienke de Groot welcomed us and showed us around the room. They work with clients from 2 to 5 pm, so we had to finish the visit before 2. While we were walking towards the offices we found out that JIP was at first situated in the old city centre but now this new building gives it more functionality because all around the building there are offices for social work and other closely cooperating institutions and organizations.

I’m hoping that the questions I prepared in the train, together with Olga, won’t take too long…

Since this visit was in the form of interview I will present it that way:

Me:

“Since we are coming from countries where youth work is not so developed, not to mention info youth work, can you tell us how it all started? How JIP has began in the Netherlands and how it is organized? ”

Mrs. De Groot:

“Around 30 years ago social work institution Rights of the Children started working with the purpose to practically implements the rights of children. At first JIP was a part of the prevention department but soon it started to work as a independent institution, but closely connected to others especially ones dealing with youth. But the thing is that not every city has a JIP. To fund it is a decision of local not national government.”

Me:

“How did you started and what kind of services you provided at the beginning?”

Mrs. De Groot:

It takes at least six months to start a youth info center. At the beginning focus is on creation of a database. You have to think about what will be useful for young people, what kind of questions are they going to ask. For this we did a focus group or just talked to young people in order to get a realistic overview what can a young person ask. But we didn’t start with the info center. We first went online, providing services trough e mails and content we put on the internet. This was the first step, second one was to attract young people. Free internet and that was the first things that attracted young people. But to really reach them it takes a lot of marketing and PR. In the beginning we visited schools a lot and did promotions and programs for youth in schools. We also have a booth on big events for youth like Skate jam – festival and competition of skateboarders.

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Me:

“What kind of services you provide now?”

Mrs. De Groot:

After 6 years of work we are now a place where first young people can get information, but also we produce brochures, sell cheap condoms etc. Considering giving information there are a different types of services. For instance if a young person is looking for a job during summer or just wants help  in finding an apartment we create databases that will help answer this question very quickly. But on the other hand there are young people coming with big problems like teen pregnancy, violence, home runaway. In these cases we provide service “until the end”. We call the institutions that can help and make an appointment. In these cases we want to be sure that the young person received needed help.

Me:

“What is the most common information that young people are looking for?”

Mrs. De Groot:

The most common question asked is about independent living. Young people are looking for information how to find an apartment, what sort of papers they need to have or fill in. Second one is information about managing money, how to plan your budget, and what kind of strategies you can use. Questions about sexuality are often asked trough e-mail because they want to stay anonymous in this issue. We also have a lot of young single mothers and pregnant girls that are seeking help. We are lucky to be in this building where are a lot of offices that are dealing with this kind of question so we can do it right away.

Me:

“Who seeks for information?”

Mrs. De Groot:

Here in Delft, unlike other JIPs mostly girls are coming to ask for information. That is around 70% of them. The age we cover is from 12 to 25.  Specific situation for Delft is that young boys are mostly getting information from youth street workers while playing soccer, skating with them. Usually the profile of our users are desperate people who are deeply into problems, and most of the time these are young people who didn’t finish school or are about to leave it. Of course university students come as well but they have specific questions, they exactly know what they want but they didn’t figure out one little detail. These questions are usually so specific that even it takes time for me to answer them.

Me:

“What are the challenges in your work?”

Mrs. De Groot:

We deal with a lot of emotional, touching situations and it is sometimes hard not to take it personally. A lot of our clients are quite alone with their problem and we are the first ones to hear their story and show compassion. That is why it is important to somehow keep the distance, otherwise they will perceive you as a friend and that can bring more and more of your involvement and trouble. You have to stay as professional as possible in these kinds of situations. We always stick to the main principle of our work and that is confidentiality and right for privacy of information.

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Me:

“Can you tell us something about your web site?”

Mrs. De Groot:

It structured and organized in order for young people to be able to find needed information quickly. We started with a little information and then filled in the gaps step by step according to the needs of young people and questions they were usually asking. Right now it is a very big database with around 900 pages and you can find information on such themes like school, work, money, health, leaving, young mothers, free time, and sexuality etc. You can check it at www.jipdelft.nl. My opinion is that professionals have to manage the web site because there are some questions that volunteers or young people can not answer. For instance, in the city of Almere young people are managing the web site. It is interesting to involve young people in it but you have to involve professionals as well if you want to do your job properly. The language on the web has to be simple and understandable for young people, but on the other hand it shouldn’t be the street language. We also have our face book and twitter page in order to get closer to young people and be on the places where they are spending time. Young people with their types of questions inspire you to improve your web site so that it can be useful for them.

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During this visit I have noticed that the system in the Netherlands seems more organized and developed than in my country. There are institutions or organizations that can answer any specific need or problem of young person. Youth work in general is very well-structured, so JIP seems to be like mediator between young people and organizations that can provide them services. I find it very useful to have JIP in the same place where other social institutions are situated, it allows you to provide quick response to young people and make sure that they will get needed help. JIP is more similar to youth and they find it close to them to enter there.

The moment Olga and I entered Den Helder, the little northern city on the sea shore where I am doing my job shadowing project, I felt its tranquility.

Not far from the station at the end of the main street, just behind the corner there is a colorful building. At the first site you can tell that this is a creation of young people.

European house is a place where Richter receives EVS volunteers. They sleep, eat, have fun, listen to music, paint, and play up stairs. And downstairs they work in a gallery.

Richter Euro House

Sophie, a fashion designer and painter from Georgia is sitting and smoking in front of the house.  She is working on here exhibition that will be opened here in the gallery on 29t of August, a day before I leave. Peter, the big daddy in this house greets me. Hum, Dutch are kissing three times in the cheek like we do?! Interesting cultural perception, I must say.

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Up stairs Olga told me about my job shadowing program that goes like this:

20/08/09 – Thursday

Visiting JIP in Delft. Walking around Delft, the Orange King City. Going to Den Hague and visiting interesting places and sights.

21/08/09 – Friday

Day for Den Helder and getting to know the Richter organization, their projects, people and ideas.

Travelling to Rotterdam, and spending newt two nights there.

22/08/09 – Saturday

Visiting JIP in Rotterdam

Travelling to Apeldoorn.

23/08/09 Sunday

Free day in Apeldoorn, visiting the National Park.

24/08/09 – Monday

Visiting JIP in Apeldoorn.

Amsterdam here we are!

25/08/09 – Tuesday

Travelling to Den Helder.

Sight seeing tour in the city and region of Den Helder.

Assisting staff members and volunteers of Richter in preparation of opening new exhibition in Euro House gallery.

26/08/09 – Wednesday

Visiting the welfare organization “Kern8” in Alkmaar. Insight to the regional youth work.

27/08/09 – Thursday

Meeting with teacher’s and student’s board in Den Helder.

Meeting with local volunteers and other interns of the Richter /non-formal meeting, exchange the experience, situation, challenges, and project ideas.

28/08/09 – Friday

Visit to the Youth City Counsel of Harenkarspel en Nieuwe Niedorp.

29/08/09 -Saturday

Exhibition opening, evaluation, exploring the results, benefits of the project.    Farwell Party

Sunday – leaving early in the morning.

Sounds interesting nice to meet you Netherlands!

Traditionally as a new member of the house I made a meal for everybody. Our “djuvec” – mixture of vegetables, bacon and rise. Music, vine and then the beautiful beach of Den Helder…

Day First: 19 August 2009

Airplain was easy. I slept all the way, flew with JAT Airways and heard my language all the time. It annoyed me. I wanted to go far from my culture. Soon after I stepped out from the plain in Amsterdam I heard this strange language. Reminds me on German, English in a way, but it’s not.

Het hallo en verwelkoomt!

What happiness is to see your bag on the luggage retrieval belt! Everything is going smooth. It maybe sounds silly but I believe that the way the luggage comes to you symbolizes how your trip will go.

And then I met Olga – the girl who will take care of me for the rest of this project (August 30th 2009). She seems quite similar to me. Youth worker, fighting similar problems in Belarus as we do in Serbia.

White Russia – black youth work

The first thing we concluded, among a lot of Serbian- Belorussian words we have in common, youth work in our countries is not recognized and appreciated as it should be. First thing that interests me the most was why Belarus means White Russia? There are two theories, she said:

1. It was, at one point in history, free Tatar territory, so free is similar to clear and therefore white.

2.  Most of the people in Belarus have blond hair and white national clothes.

Since the country had not have its own independence, but always belonged to some other nations like Polish, Lithuanians, Russians young people have problems about identity.  “But when you travel like this”, Olga said “you can meet people from other countries and from Poland, and from Russia and this interaction can show you the real characteristics of Belorussians.”

Belarus, although white, can tell a dark youth work story. Government, so important factor in our lives, isn’t supportive in the steps Olga’s organization for youth work is doing, and not only her organization. Most of Belorussian organizations share this “destiny.” The thing is, of course about money. Everything is about money. If they get it, the government has to allow them to use it and this is a procedure that can take time, a lot of time. A tax for renting offices is getting much higher and support from the government is week. It seems like they want to make their work harder.

olga in the train

Organization named “Fialta” from Nabokov novel “Spring in Fialta” was funded in 1995 and made a lot of youth programs and activities since, Olga said. Their work was based on peer education in different subjects such as HIV prevention, drug abuse and life skills. Now they publish manuals for the peer educators to continue the youth work. The feeling is similar. In Serbia there is no occupation called youth worker. My parents ask me over and over again “what is that you are doing?” By not recognizing youth work, a lot of people can call themselves youth workers. In this way professionalism is taken into question. Recognition of youth work as a first step towards giving support is more than needed in both countries.

Although it seems like politics and government is far away from real youth work, it is essential for its growth and quality. For instance, mobility of young people in Belarus as it is in Serbia faces visas, queues, endless waiting and uncertainty, that demotivates young people to travel. Not traveling, as Olga said don’t give you this wonderful feeling of diversity and most important realizing who you are in this diversity.

Fialta, dream city from Nabokov novel, is dreaming. This dream connected me to Olga, youth worker from Fialta. I think we dream the same dreams. Just in different beds.

Music, images and lyrics are important to young people.  This is what occupies their attention and influences their behavior, what fills their free time and their peer talks, what makes their identities and makes their life more meaningfull.

What I wanted to expose and discuss here is the fact that no matter from which country you came from the words from this video can be applied.

But what I am missing here is the solution or at least talk about control. One sentence about internet as young peoples playground for life had very much caught my attention. Is it non controllable area where they can do what they want but in the real world this is not a case?

Is the mass media  in someones control?Like someone has a remote and clicks the buttons? I would say probably. But again if young people need to be controled in their growth  who is supposed to take the remote? Who decides which programs should be klicked?

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