Catalin Buzoianu, EVS Volunteer 2014-15
“I was the first European Volunteer (EVS) in the YES Forum Secretariat during a time of changes for European youth work.
It was 2014 and quite a few organisations in the field didn't make the transition to the then new „ERASMUS+“ programme. To invite then a young person to work for a year in the international Secretariat was a pretty bold move, but one which owned up to YES Forum's standing commitment of working together with young people, not for them. Boldness seems nowadays to be in short supply.
My time with YES Forum was a learning experience in the purest sense. I had the good fortune of learning from professionals how to tackle policy issues with potentially far-ranging consequences without succumbing to the pitfalls of bureaucratic thinking. I also started learning the German language and to understand the national field of social work, in which I have been active ever since.
But most importantly, I learned to always keep in mind the interplay between the different levels of policy, the local as well as the European. YES Forum bridges the gap between the two by bringing together young people, youth work practitioners and decision-makers from all over Europe. In a time when politics seem at most removed from ordinary citizens, we urgently need to politically involve young people in the decisions which affect their lives.
I commend YES Forum on its invaluable work with disadvantaged young people. Here's to the next 15 years!”
Salomea Popoviciu, University Reader, Social Worker, and Social Psychology Researcher
“Ruhama Foundation and YES Forum provided a space where I applied my academic knowledge and the insights gained in my PhD research in a practical way.
I am interested in the interactions between Romas and non Romas and how people formulate policy solutions for poverty, discrimination and inequality. Through the OLOV project, I had the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from young people and professionals from multiple European countries. It was inspiring to work with people who shared a passion for empowering communities and achieve positive social changes.
In the future, I hope to see further opportunities for multi-cultural dialogue in an open and safe environment and collaborations between academics and professionals interested in social issues affecting young people.”
Giulia Bechelli, participant "YourEP"
"Yes Forum gave me the opportunity to believe in myself, to travel, to learn, to fight for my ideas, to be a better person.
Society tends to exclude people which are not perfect, Yes Forum listens to this people and show them that there nothing's wrong with them, but with their standards.
So if I hadn't participated to any youth exchange probably I was still thinking "I am a loser" but now I know that I can be everything I want. That's the impact of Yes Forum in my life."
Brando Benifei, MEP
It has been a pleasure for me, as a Member of the European Parliament and particularly as Co-Chair of the Youth Intergroup, to work in cooperation with YES FORUM throughout three and a half years since the beginning of my mandate, therefore I am particularly glad to send today my warmest congratulations for its 15th birthday.
Despite remarkable investment in youth by the EU, we are still missing the challenge of mainstreaming young people’s perspective across all levels of policy making. We must strengthen our efforts and we must emphasize and value the collaboration with youth organizations, especially in relation to their work for social cohesion and inclusion of young people.
From Erasmus to the Youth Guarantee, from the Solidarity Corps to the Structured Dialogue, the European Union has implemented several initiatives that show how much attention we put towards the younger generations. However, although all EU programmes have had a very positive impact, a large part of young people is not attracted by our initiatives and does not feel “involved” at any level.
Nowadays, we see more and more often the dangerous results od the perception of marginalisation can lead to: from the UK to Poland, young people who feel excluded and abandoned tend either to disappear from the public scene not engaging in any public debate, or worse they tend to mistrust institutions and democratic values, putting at risk the social cohesion of our communities.
We must invert this dramatic trend; and this is exactly where youth organizations such as the YES FORUM have a fundamental role to play. Its core values, namely solidarity, equality, dignity, social justice, overlap with the ones we once chose as basis on which to build our European Union. Its attention to the most vulnerable young people allows exactly those individuals that we fail to connect with to acquire new skills and at the same time to stay connected to and integrated in society, thus actively participating to the construction of cohesive, peaceful communities.
YES FORUM directly engages with young people with fewer opportunities, contributes to share positive values and improves their understanding of an evolving society. The network aims at providing young people with new skills and boosting their ability to influence policy-makers and therefore their capacity to build their own future. Through the projects that the network runs, young people have the ability to “practice autonomy” and understand the importance of civic engagement.
Congratulating once again the YES FORUM for the anniversary, I look forward to a successful new year of activities with further opportunities to work together for a EU that values all young people!
Sterenn Coudray, Chair of the Board (until May 2017)
"After diverse challenges in the last 5 years YES Forum is now a professional European network with democratic governance.
Through our active engagement in the network, we could develop our European cooperation, experiences and competences, i.e European identity, active citizenship, new methods and approaches.
The challenges are the recognition of the benefits of the international youth work and the financing of the projects. Lobby and innovative projects in cooperation with diverse actors (i.e. politic, civil society, university and private sector) are important. "
Martine Reicherts, Director-General of DG Education and Culture (DG EAC)
"So, in a nutshell, here are my key messages to you:
1) Our freedom should not be taken for granted, we need to fight to conserve and protect it
2) We ourselves are the actors of our own lives, we are the vectors of change. Think about the Legend of the Hummingbird (see below): we all have a role to play, big or small, poor or rich
3) Dare to be who you are. Each of us is perfect in his or her own way
4) Don't make it cheap! Set your goals and objectives high. You can mostly always do better than you think
Remember to enjoy life and have fun, that has to be my final message!
PS: The Legend of the Hummingbird
One day, a long time ago and in a faraway place, or so the legend goes, there was a huge forest fire that was raging the countryside. All the animals were terrified, running around in circles, screaming, crying and helplessly watching the impending disaster.
But there in the middle of the flames, and above the cowering animals, was a tiny hummingbird busy flying from a small pond to the fire, each time fetching a few drops with its beak to throw on the flames. And then again And then again.
After a while, an old grouchy armadillo, annoyed by this ridiculous useless agitation on the part of the hummingbird, cried out: “Tiny bird! Don’t be a fool. It is not with those miniscule drops of water, one after the other that you are going to put out the fire and save us all! ” To which the hummingbird replied, “Could be, but I’m going to do my bit”.
Karen, participant “YourEP”
“My experience: I´m Karen and when I´m writing this I’m in Sweden for a meeting from the “YourEP” project. This project is about the European Parliament and European politics.
This project gave me more information about the European Parliament, so now I better understand what it is and what the different roles are in the parliament. In these kinds of project you learn to discuss on a political level with others from different countries. Besides that it´s a good way to learn how it works to prepare an exchange or European project. Also you learn how to give your opinion and whether it´s understandable for all participants from this project.
You learn so much more because you have so many different countries and they all have other rules and cultures.”
Michael Fähndrich, founding member of the YES Forum
YES FORUM and its impact on young people
From our national umbrella BAG Jugendsozialarbeit I had been given the task to find a European umbrella for youth social work in 2001. In Brussels I visited several organisations but they didn´t fit. So the BAG JSA board told me to found a new one! Easier said than done!
In early summer 2002 some people met in Aix Les Bains. It was me, my colleague Thomas Vollmer from BAG EJSA and our French partner-to-be Bernard from CNLAPS and his colleague.
We Germans had come to Aix-Les-Bains to talk about a new European network we wanted to found. We were shortly shown round in the office – quite simple and not very representative but we came to talk with French streetworkers! Afterwards we went for having lunch, talking about politics, young people and private stuff. When we wanted to start speaking of our intensions towards cooperation, there was no real response, the topic changed.
We returned to Stuttgart, somehow puzzled. What has it been? Were they interested or not? We later realized that it was just cultural difference. We went to have a meal together to get to know each other. We Germans wanted results! But impatience is a bad thing to have in intercultural relations!
Later we had a very nice conversation via mail and in late summer we met again in Lucca, and there were already 5 possible partners: Bernard, our French colleague from CNLAPS, Rosie from Children´s Society in London, our Italian hosts from ENAIP and two German parties, the national Stuttgart one, BAG EJSA, and an East German one from Halle, Klaus Roth, who actually had have the contact to the Italians from a former cooperation.
Then we founded the YES FORUM. First there were Italy, England and Germany, France joined a little later, their general assembly hesitated at first.
Now we had an umbrella for the European work with young people in distress. But how to structure it? How could we be successful in fighting youth unemployment, injustice and inequality in Europe?
We organized meetings to have common projects, now called project planning meetings. In the first few years it wasn´t easy to put projects into practice because we were few people, there was a lack of time and manpower and not enough members to shoulder all this.
Over the years the YES FORUM was growing and slowly but surely we succeeded in organizing more project work. But which aims did we follow?
Young people in Europe should have more possibilities to meet, to get to know other countries and to find European friends or at least not be hostile towards young people from other countries. We wanted to create and promote curiosity, knowledge and understanding for other cultures. And especially for the young boys and girls who didn´t usually travel with their parents and didn´t otherwise have the possibility to go abroad. That was the direct goal of YES FORUM.
The indirect goal of YES FORUM was the qualification of youth workers, which means increasing the knowledge on how other nations` youth work works. Youth workers from different countries should meet and exchange experiences on how to reach the “unreachable” young people, how to work with them and what to offer them.
A third task is political lobbying, representing the interests of young people in Europe. For this aim we often travelled to Brussels or Strasbourg in the first few years. We visited European MPs or invited them for meetings in order to make the YES FORUM and its goals better known. Over the years this visits were not necessary anymore because YES FORUM had gained a good reputation.
At one of our first meetings with MEPs our British member, The Children´s Society, insisted to go there with e few of their young people with very difficult background and we were very sceptical and wanted to prevent this. But we weren´t successful and the meeting took place with these young mostly black people who were fantastically confident and presented their own situation in a very lively and powerful way. The MEPs were very impressed. We could never have done it as authentic and good as the young people themselves! That´s how I learned radical participation from or English colleagues!
After a certain period of first enthusiasm there was a financial problem on one hand and a lack of man and woman power to gain the goals on the other hand. Furthermore, there were always hardly enough countries to get the European funding for a European youth organisation. Each time, we reached the required number of member countries, the EU was growing and the number was increased!
Times changed and people changed. Our very engaged Hungarian member for example vanished after a few years, because the colleague left our member organization. In England we had different members who changed but they were always very much involved.
The BAG EJSA, German initiating member, invested a lot of money and manpower (without refunding) in person of Hans Steimle, the director, to keep the YES FORUM going. For about 10 years he worked with 50% of his BAG EJSA deputat for the YES FORUM.
Other loans, BAG EJSA had given to the YES FORUM were payed back, slowly but surely. Without this support the YES FORUM wouldn´t have been able to survive.
But over the years there were more members, more projects, more tasks in the head office, more womanpower and nowadays the YES FORUM is a well known, healthy and important player in European youth politics.
Especially the first and most important goal of YES FORUM, to create possibilities for young people with fewer opportunities to take part in international youth exchanges, is very well put in practice. And there are also a lot of professionals from many different countries permanently meeting and exchanging ideas and planning new common projects. So it was worthwhile to fight difficulties for many years!
In these days it is more important than ever to push the European idea and the European solidarity.
I wish the YES FORUM good luck for coming years and thank everybody for helping in all these years, especially the very diligent and active “headquarter” in Stuttgart!
And if there will be difficult times for the YES FORUM again, “don´t forget to sing in the lifeboats” (Voltaire)!