Youth project promotes civic engagement


YouthBank fosters youth engagement and social responsibility.

By Menekse Tokyay for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 13/05/13


Members of YouthBank from Turkey and Armenia made a flower peace sign in a park in Samsun, northeast Turkey. [Community Volunteers Foundation]

Youth throughout Turkey and the Balkans are engaging in civic responsibility through local community projects supported by YouthBank.

The programme has been operational in Turkey since 2011 in co-operation with the Community Volunteers Foundation (TOG) and support of the Eurasia Partnership Foundation. Other countries where YouthBank operates include Ireland, Great Britain, Germany, Armenia, India, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Georgia, Romania, Serbia and South Africa.

Projects in Turkey first started in Istanbul and Samsun. Then, with the grants from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and Sabanci Foundation's Social Development Grant Programme, it was extended to five additional cities: Artvin, Adiyaman, Canakkale, Batman and Izmir.

"YouthBank-Turkey aims to stimulate the youth participation in the regions where they are not active, because many of them are frustrated by the lack of opportunities and facilities within their communities," Can Ercebe, project co-ordinator from TOG, told SETimes.

Ercebe says young people without university education have significant problems in civic engagement. YouthBank aims to reach those people and encourage them to assume social responsibility at the local level to make a difference in their communities.

YouthBank-Turkey ended last year with 50 projects funded by six YouthBank teams. YouthBank volunteers, age 15-24, also had an opportunity to attend national and international meetings and events. They visited Armenia to meet their peers working in the same project and gathered with youth councils in Istanbul and Diyarbakir.

"Almost all participant young people have established for the first time a contact with a foreigner thanks to this project. It created in them a motivation to learn different cultures, to take into consideration that they are working for common ideals and a better world," Ercebe said.

Ismail Demir took part in a YouthBank project in the southeastern province of Adiyaman. After receiving training in Istanbul about designing and implementing local projects, he conducted with seven colleagues a local survey revealing the needs of the young people of Adiyaman.

The YouthBank team in Adiyaman will now start their first project providing a grant to three young women to open a workshop for a dozen of young people on how to make stuffed dolls.

"The dolls will then be given to orphans as a gift to make them happy. It is both a social responsibility project and a training workshop to acquire new manual skills," Demir told SETimes.

The team is also planning a project with Syrian refugees living in a camp in Adiyaman in order to integrate them better into social life.

For two years, Emircan Unsal has taken part in a four-person team in the Arhavi village in the northeastern city of Artvin. The project team carried out local surveys to measure the needs of young people and submitted the final report to the municipality.

"This is a rare opportunity for us. As 18-year-olds we can talk to the people in the municipalities, we have good contacts at the decision-making levels, we are acting as an intermediary between youth expectations and the local authorities," Unsal told SETimes.

The Arhavi team organised book-reading festivities in the main square of the village, clothing exchanges between residents, and periodically visit the elderly.

"We have also implemented an interesting project of sharing umbrellas. As we are living in a city that is generally rainy, we built umbrella corners where people can borrow and bring back those umbrellas. This was something which boosted ties between local residents by meeting a demand," Unsal said.

Ercebe says such innovative projects show adults that "if given a chance, young people can do good things."

"Because YouthBank is a project that has trust in young people and invests in them by increasing their visibility, while investing in them they consult their views and consider them not as an object but fully a subject," he added.

YouthBank also contributes to strengthening friendship bonds among young people from different countries. The project team in Armenia gathered with their peers in the city of Samsun three times last year. In a park located in Samsun, they created a peace sign using flowers and petitioned to change the name of the park to "park of peace." They are also planning to build a regional YouthBank network between Azerbaijan, Abkhazia, Armenia, Georgia and Turkey.

"This project increased the self-confidence, entrepreneurial spirit, self-expression capability, tolerance, as well as crisis management and project implementation skills among the youth. They also acquired further capability to communicate and increase their sensitivity about social issues by assuming responsibilities," Ercebe said.

The project is also active in the Balkans, where it is fostering civic engagement among youth. The project was first introduced to Romania in 2006. Now it operates in seven cities across the country and has awarded over 250 projects worth of $80,000. Projects in Romania include social events for disabled children, environmental awareness, sports, social and cultural events as well as social awareness campaigns.

In BiH, the project is also inspiring youth. Milivoje Lujic, 30, from the town of Lopare, heard about YouthBank on the internet and filled out an application to build a tennis court, the first in the town.

Two months after submitting the application, he and five others received 1,000 euros to build the tennis court. Thirty-six volunteers worked building the tennis court and 1,500 euros was collected from citizens in the town.

"Now we are planning to write a new project for YouthBank funds. The new project will be the establishment of a tennis club, teaching and giving lessons to kids and the establishment of the first tennis section in Lopare," Lujic told SETimes.

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Zeljko Paukovic, the head of the Youth Bank Programme in BiH, said that YouthBank has received more than 400 projects in 31 municipalities in BiH this year.

"Through this programme we want to show that young people can function and work for the benefit of their local communities. Projects were valued at 250-1000 euros and they relate to various fields, construction of sports facilities, removal of landfill, theater performances, building parks," Paukovic told SETimes.

Correspondent Drazen Remikovic in Sarajevo contributed to this report.

How do you think youth can be engaged in civic responsibility at the local level? Tell us by leaving a comment.

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