Facebook page of CCR Arenzano (local youth council Arenzano, Italy)

Facebook page of CCR Arenzano (local youth council Arenzano, Italy)

Young people’s voice

by Mara Georgescu



We interviewed several young people during the conference Learning to Live Together: a Shared Commitment to Democracy at the Council of Europe in June 2017. What we wanted to know is how they got engaged with EDC/HRE and why EDC/HRE is important for them. We also had an interview with an educator, who accompanied two of the youngest participants, and she also shared with us her view on this.

Ioana Negrea, The NGOs Federation for Children (FONPC), Romania

Ioana is 17 and volunteers in a foundation that works for the integration of children and youth with autism. For example, the foundation organises trips to town for young people from rural areas.

She experienced bullying and discrimination two years ago at school. Because of her disability she needed a place in school which could be easily reached using a wheelchair. Therefore, the school decided to move her class to another part of the school which was used by smaller children in the primary school. Both her classmates and teachers weren’t happy about it. It wasn’t easy for her before the move, but after it things got worse: her classmates did not want to hang out with her. The situation got better after six months when Ioana and her parents asked for support from school. The school psychologist ran several classes with all students on disability, tolerance and human rights. After this, people started to help Ioana, but there were still people who did not care.

Ioana decided then to be active and got involved in a charity organisation doing fundraising. She participated in the youth forum on strategies against bullying and she also contributed to the “Alternative report to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities” concerning participation of children and young people.

Ioana decided to get involved because it brings her emotional and personal satisfaction. It makes her feel like she has a goal in life. She believes that EDC/HRE is very powerful: it teaches people empathy with those who are in a difficult situation. For Ioana, schools have an important role to play in EDC/HRE. Such programmes should start very early in the primary school.

William Carter, The Political Philosophy Education Campaign, United Kingdom

William is 18 and he is scared of populism. On the one hand, it is positive as people who are normally less engaged get interested in politics and see that some decisions and proposals may impact their lives. On the other hand, it is scary that the message that is passed is often xenophobic or racist.

In November 2016, William got increasingly weird comments at university (he studies political science at the University of Bristol). There are some 150 people in his class, and only a handful are of African-Caribbean heritage. In his first weeks of class, a classmate asked him why he studied politics, while instead he should be studying basketball. Other white students decide to fist-bump him in a nod to hip-hop culture rather than shake his hand on formal occasions.

William then felt something should be done about it, so he initiated a political philosophy campaign that aims at having political philosophy as part of the national curriculum alongside political education and citizenship education. He is on the advisory board of the Student’s View, a journalism NGO. What it seeks to do is to reach people from ethnic minority backgrounds, refugees and people with low academic achievements – they can write articles on the matters that are important for them.

William also teaches politics lessons engaging young people in current affairs. His main role is to see the potential in others and then use them to reach people who need to be reached. Just to be facilitators.

For William, human rights education is needed to ensure that young people realise that human rights are actually the reason why they have what they have. It is not about red tape that stops us from getting jobs, something that only elites have. Human rights are the result of horrendous atrocities during the Second World War. If we go against human rights we go against innately who we are.

“If you listen to people who go against human rights, like Donald Trump, and literally you ask people to answer the question: Where is the right side and where is the wrong side? Then I guarantee that the majority of them will know which side that is. All it takes generally is to sit down and consider what basic things we learned throughout life: to be good is to be decent and tolerant, and to be bad is to be against those things and be hateful. As long as you understand that to love and to be loved is a good thing and to be hateful is a bad thing it is very easy to find the right way.”

Givi Gvinjilia, student at Tbilisi I, Vekua Physical-Mathematical School No. 42, Georgia

Givi is 17, he comes from Georgia, he studies physics and mathematics and he was a student counsellor in the past.

Givi’s parents are from Abkhazia, territory of Georgia, which is occupied by Russia. In the past his home country faced many problems, such as lack of electricity, economic stagnation and civil war. But in recent years things have changed rapidly for the better. This motivates Givi to work for his country and be part of a generation that will lead Georgia in the process of entering the EU. He thinks that nowadays young people have a lot of opportunities to study in the EU, participate in the exchange programmes, meet people from other European countries and share experiences with each other. Givi has been involved for two years in the programme called A Way to Europe. He went through a lot of learning, especially about human rights using Compass – a manual on human rights education with young people. He then initiated some projects in his school related to human rights, for example a forum theatre project on the rights of people with disabilities.

Givi is trying to motivate his friends to work for change. People in Georgia are not interested in joining or working for NGOs and they are not interested in politics. They see the situation that is around them and it leaves them feeling hopeless. Young people need to join NGOs to work for change. For Givi, EDC/HRE can motivate them to take responsibility for their lives and the lives of others. And he is happy to try and contribute to this process.

Givi considered himself lucky to have participated in the EDC/HRE conference in Strasbourg. “I would like more young people from Georgia to have such amazing opportunities. This, for sure, would make them more active in the communities where they live or in politics. I believe young people have an important role to play in changing our country for the better,” he said.

Marco, Eleonora and Ivana, local youth council Arenzano, Italy

Marco is 13, he is a very active young man and his passions are fencing and playing the violin. His main project at the local youth council is youth radio, where he is a presenter and the co-ordinator of a programme on the beautiful places to visit in Italy. Eleonora is 11, she has many hobbies and she loves to travel. She is active in the local youth council in the group dealing with culture, and she writes for the youth newspaper that the local youth council produces. She basically “translates” interesting information and news from different websites and puts articles together.

Marco and Eleonora both participate in the Arenzano local youth council, which involves young people from 8 to 14, for a two-year mandate. Those involved represent the young girls and boys in the city and they get engaged in community activities. For example, they ran two fundraising events where they raised around 4 000 euro for associations working on social causes. When I asked them why they got on the local youth council, the answer was simple: “Because it’s fun! It’s also to do something for the place where you live.” They also liked that the local youth council makes a link with the world of adults, so that young people learn how things work.

They both considered that learning about their rights and how to participate is really useful, because otherwise one would never even know that rights exist. Marco and Eleonora were the youngest participants in the conference in June. At times they could see that this is mostly an event for adults … but, as they put it, “we are still learning a lot!”

Ivana is the educator accompanying Eleonora and Marco at the conference. She works for a local co-operative which supports the local youth council and other services. For her, the most important change that the local youth council brought for the young people is that they learned about their rights and developed their opinions.

After several years of the local youth council, families created an NGO to support the activities of the council, in which young people over 14 can also get involved after they leave the youth council. For her, the challenges for a local youth council are to do with involving young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, but also to accept that a local youth council is a long process, so the result may come a lot later! Ivana told us that for her the EDC/HRE conference was almost a utopian scenario! At the local level, she rarely got the opportunity to be in a place with so many competent people. For her, training for educators is really a big need, as are also exchanges of experiences with people from other countries.

© Photos provided by the interviewees and by Marlies Pöschl

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Partnership between the European Commission and the Council of Europe in the field of youth
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