The NGO promotes democracy and good governance, conflict resolution and civic engagement among Macedonian youth.
By Marina Stojanovska for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 12/09/12
YEF has about 100 members who can vote in the organisation's assembly. [YEF]
Founded in 1998, the Youth Educational Forum (YEF) has integrated itself into Macedonian society by giving the country's young population a strong community that promotes tolerance, lets them articulate their problems and provides help in generating solutions.
Based on the premise of debate, YEF is a member of the International Debate Education Association, and follows global formats and standards in the implementation of the debate programme in Macedonia.
"The organisation has about 100 members of age who have a right to vote in the YEF Assembly, which is the highest organisational body. There are more than 800 volunteers and programme users annually, who work in 14 cities throughout the country," Marjan Zabrchanec, executive director of the Youth Educational Forum, told SETimes.
Since the organisation began, more than 15,000 high school and university students have attended training programmes. Many of them, like the Informal Education, Youth and Educational Policies or Youth Activism, are organised with the aim of familiarising as many youths as possible with their rights, allowing them to voice their problems and to generate solutions through discussion.
"Discussions, debates and arguments are all part of Macedonian youths' everyday life. Youths practice various forms of communication at school, within their families, with their peers, and mostly on the Internet, through the social networks. What YEF appeals to and what we educate about is this type of organised and structured discussion, known as debate," Zabrchanec said.
Students participate in a debate on the ethnic codes in Southeast Europe. [YEF]
"The experience and knowledge I gained [through YEF] will be of extreme importance for me in the future. It is an organisation that offers non-formal education, one of the very few in Macedonia. It is also a multi-ethnic organisation which tries to end the margins between young people because of their ethnicity," Ana Nesoska, 20 , who participated in the forum for two years.
Apart from encouraging youths to take part in making decisions and generating solutions that concern them, YEF also works in the field of maintaining freedom of speech.
"As a response to the increasing limitations on traditional media, in 2011 we founded our own new medium, the first youth online radio in Macedonia. Now, YEF Radio is visited by more than 12,000 youths a month, and numerous youths from many Macedonian cities … are involved in the creation of its programme," Zabrchanec told SETimes.
Both the YEF members and programme users come from a variety of ethnicities and cultures, representing different social, religious and political groups and communities. During last year's turbulence in Skopje caused by high school fights on the city buses, YEF members were among the first ones, as a group of mixed-ethnic structure, to encourage discussion among groups.
"The environment, the family and the school also exert strong influence on mutual respect among youths from different communities. Only when all of these factors will contribute towards initiating communication and interaction among the different, will successful integration be possible," Zabrchanec said.
Macedonia is one of the few Balkan, if not European, countries where youth organisation is next to non-existent, while the forms in which it does exist do not differ greatly from those in the socialist era.
"This is exactly why YEF will continue developing debate programmes in Macedonia, focusing especially on the development of student debate clubs at the universities, all the while strengthening our We Learn Law clubs, where we learn and practice youth democracy. YEF will work with its partners towards the foundation of a national youth umbrella-organisation and towards implementation of pluralism in university and high school student ogranisation," he says.
The organisation is also active in a number of regional and international projects. It is also member of the Anti-Corruption Student Network in Southeaast Europe, which investigates corruption in higher education in Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, Bulgaria, Croatia and Moldova.