YOUTH WORKERS IN BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA

Edina DINA Vosanovic 02Our June story about youth workers of Bosnia and Herzegovina took us to Brčko District. We’re here to meet Edina Vošanović. Edina graduated from the Faculty of Philosophy, Department of German Language and Literature, and has been working at the Youth Organization Svitac for years.

Life nudged her in the direction of youth work, and this inspiring woman is happy to share the story of how it happened.

“My road to becoming a youth worker started by chance, in 2006, when I met Ellie Maxwell from Great Britain, the founder of Firefly International and later Youth Orgainization Svitac. She asked me to help international volunteer from Great Britain to adapt to the local community and volunteer during the summer camp for youth from Brčko, which was organized in Istra. I later started volunteering at Svizac’s Youth Center, helping with workshops and preparing summer festivals, doing promotional activities and translated for English-speaking volunteers. I was then offered employment. In time, all these things I did became a calling that fulfills me and makes me happy to this day. I love spending time and working with young people. I think we should use every chance we get - whether we’re talking to them or working with groups and individuals - and offer them experiential learning as a tool for personal and social growth and their way to independence.”

For the past few years, Edina has been coordinating international and local volunteers at the organization, and creating programs and various educational, informal activities for youth.

“As a mentor for international volunteers and one of the organizers of our regular workshops, I was getting more and more opportunities to work with young people. In 2007, the Internet wasn’t available to everyone, young people had more free time; they’d often gather at the center to socialize, they were more interested in workshops on music, art, foreign languages, and various festivals. We responded to their interests by working more on non-formal education and building bridges between young people in Brčko and youth from across the world. We also involved young people in Brčko as peer support to international volunteers, encouraging them to implement their ideas together. What’s particularly wonderful about this story is that many of them are still friends, after completing some fantastic projects together. Working with young people makes me happy. The moment when a young person reaches out to you for support or advice is truly something special. In my organization, young people are always welcome to come and share their ideas and problems. They can visit the Youth Center or reach us online through our website.”

In 2017, Edina attended the training for expert youth work associates, organized and implemented by the Institute for Youth Development KULT. The training, she says, remains one of her fondest memories of the lovely people from across BiH.

Edina DINA Vosanovic 04

“Although I’ve been in the NGO sector for years, individual experiences and new things I learned filled the gaps I had in my youth work. We were given tasks between each module that we had to implement in our local communities, so sharing my experience with fellow participants and celebrating their successes was very interesting, and we were able to join forces in tackling problems we all face. Of course, some segments of youth work I was already familiar with, but the training helped everything fall into place because it was very high-quality and rich with information. I also have to point out that the contact I had with KULT during the training left me with a more comprehensive view of the current situation in youth work in BiH. In any case, KULT is a mainstay in youth work and they always welcome questions and dialogue. Experienced trainers and lecturers using interesting methods were a true font of information and so supportive. What’s really fantastic about is is the friendship and support that persists in our group even three years after the training. This certificate I got after completing the training formalized what I’ve been doing for years.

Edina says that the youth sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina has not yet been recognized as an important building block of society.

“BiH and our neighboring countries have similar problems when it comes to youth work. I can say that politics in Brčko District does have a major impact on our work, and institutions are often uninterested in supporting young people and things like non-formal education. People often don’t know what a youth worker is - they don’t understand the term. It’s very important to also recognize our own capacities for problem solving. A lot of red tape often makes for difficult coordination between government institutions and NGOs. For instance, we sometimes spend 2 months waiting for the Department of Education to approve our request to work in schools. These types of situations prevented a lot of projects from being implemented, even though they would have been very beneficial for young people. Although the situation is much better now when it comes to youth work, we have a long way to go before it’s recognized by the society as something beneficial and important. One major problem at state level is the lack of communication between youth and government representatives and a high emigration rate for youth. Working with international partners is also difficult in terms of administration, because it takes a lot of energy and effort to get residence visas for international volunteers. Our country doesn’t have its own national agency, which makes access to programs more difficult from the get-go. Despite these obstacles, Youth Organization Svitac has been sending young people to Europe and welcoming international volunteers so they can all learn about different cultures, gain new experiences and skills. Svitac has been accredited by the EVS as an SO and HO (sending and hosting organization) since 2007. By 2020, we hosted a total of 66 international volunteers, 60 through the EVS program (European Voluntary Service) and from 2018 onwards we hosted 6 international volunteers through the ESC program (European Solidarity Corps). I’d also like to point out some good things in BiH - the warmth and connectedness of organizations and youth workers through the Alumni network of youth workers coordinated by KULT. The founding of the Brčko District Youth Council is also a very important step forward. It was a long wait but it was worth it. The Youth Law of Brčko District has also been adopted and we have to know how to interpret it so we can improve youth work, support youth initiatives and show them that their opinions matter. After all, they’re the only ones who can tell us what they need.”

Edina DINA Vosanovic 03

When she contemplates the future, this inspiring woman still sees her in youth work.

“Every day is different and brings new challenges. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were unable to work directly with our members, but tried to stay in touch on social networks. This meant a lot to young people we work with, but it also meant a lot to me because every day they filled me with energy and put the wind in my sails. My place is still in Brčko and I hope I’ll keep working with young people for a long time to come. I want to encourage them to take part in decision making and give them a chance to get involved in processes that improve their local communities.”

Finally, Edina wants young people to know that knowledge is the key to every door:

“Young people should jump at every chance to learn something new! They should explore new things, and start thinking about themselves, present and future, they should travel, welcome new experiences and meet new people. They should be young and silly and curious and start making positive changes from within.”

YOUTH WORKERS OF BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA

Banja 22

The series of texts about the superheroes we call youth workers continues with the story of Jasmina Banjalučkić from Ključ. Jasmina has an MA in Sociology and is currently the Secretary of the Youth Council of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, although she’ll usually introduce herself as youth worker who loves youth policy,

She became a youth worker spontaneously.

“Honestly, I wasn’t planning on becoming a youth worker. It grew spontaneously and naturally, from all the youth work I’ve been doing since I was sixteen. I started by working with children. I was a member of an informal youth group, and we organized workshops for children with the help of a Spanish charity. We had workshops all year round, and camps during the summer. Of course, I learned a lot during the three years I was involved in that project.

Her interest in what’s happening around her then led her to become a volunteer at the youth center Kosmos in Stolac, before taking on the role of a youth worker.

“That’s when I realized that everything I do with young people - individual conversations, group work, organizing local actions, camps, social events, international exchanges and training - is what the world would call youth work. This realization was preceded by several years or learning and growing with the team in Kosmos. For a long time I was unaware that I may actually be a youth worker.”

The role of youth workers, as expert youth work associates, is to support the professional, personal and educational development of young people they’re working with. This is why staying up to date with developments in the youth sector and constantly investing in education is paramount for youth workers. As someone who believes in the importance of lifelong learning, in 2018, Jasmina took part in a training for youth workers organized by the Institute for Youth Development KULT with the support of the Olof Palme International Center. The training was a perfect opportunity for Jasmina to consolidate her knowledge and experience. She’s particularly appreciative of the opportunity to meet many youth workers whose work and dedication motivated her.

“Unfortunately, youth workers rarely get a chance to sit together and bounce ideas off each other. After listening to fellow youth workers, I was left with a lasting impression that we’ve done so much for young people that it’s time someone supports us too, since we’re the ones young people can reach out to day and night, we support them through injustices and try to make it right, we share in their joy and try to offer positivity, act responsibility and encourage change.”

The most important thing the training taught her is that she has to be very loud when advocating for the rights of youth workers. She also noted that there are no associations or policies focused on youth workers and their rights, and she herself accepts some of the responsibility for it.

71326353 2361757747409918 2844834123229429760 o 1

Jasmina thinks that the youth sector is going through an unprecedented crisis.

“A lot of young people, including my coworkers, left the country or moved to different communities and now lead different lives. This happened without an adequate transition, and we didn’t prepare the field for some new youth workers, volunteers and activists. It’s clear that the number of active youth organizations is dwindling. We invested so much in youth organizing, but right now it’s not strong enough to support youth through the challenges they’re facing, especially in local communities. Being neglected by institutions eroded people’s enthusiasm. At the end of the day, they did have a personal sense of satisfaction, which is, of course, important, but we weren’t recognized by the system and they didn’t invest enough in us.”

Jasmina now works at the Youth Council of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina where she continues her youth work in a slightly different way - she’s promoting youth rights and the government’s obligations towards young people.

“I work on youth policies and I try to promote youth organizing in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I really want to stay in BiH, and keep working on youth policies because I think a good system that’s responsive to youth needs is the foundation of a good society. I know that young people want change, but I want from them is to have them be a part of that change.”

She advises young people to organize, get involved in youth associations, informal groups, and youth councils.

“Only if we join our voices, we’ll be loud enough for decision makers to hear. It’s particularly important that young people enjoy this process, this change they’re bringing,” says Jasmina, one of the positive forces in the BiH society that build it up it from within, day after day.

YOUTH WORKERS IN BiH

Amar 03

The May issue of the youth worker series from Bosnia and Herzegovina takes us to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, to talk to Amar Toplić, a youth worker who started his formal education at the University of Banja Luka, studying social work. While at university, Amar went on student exchanges to Montenegro, Slovenia and in Sarajevo. He fondly remembers his road from Čelinac and Banja Luka to Ljubljana, and his first foray into youth work.

“My road was different from most youth workers, in that it was mostly “unwanted” in a way. In elementary school, I preferred to solve conflicts with my fists rather than words. These proclivities landed me in a non-violent communication training run by the Social Work Center in Čelinac, where I went to school. It was this training that introduced me to the world of youth work. For the first few months, I was an unwilling participant, but then I started volunteering in the local center for children, and got involved in the work of the local youth center where I worked as a project assistant and managed some daily activities. In time, this became a calling that chose me, instead of the other way around. Today I’m proud to say I am a child of youth work. Without youth work, I honestly don’t know where I would be today, I don’t even want to think about it. Our social worker at the time was a little more strict than the average youth worker today, but to me she was more of a youth worker than a social worker, and she has my gratitude”, says Amar, starting his story.

He is one of the young people who decided to leave BiH, and he moved to Slovenia for two reasons.

“The first reason is that my faculty in Banja Luka did not recognize the exams I took during my semester abroad. I was forced to repeat that year, which made me lose the scholarship that made education possible for me. That really hurt me and made me angry. Ljubljana had a study program focusing on social work with youth, so I decided to move there. The second reason is street youth work - a type of youth work that’s practiced in Slovenia but not in Bosnia and Herzegovina”, says Amar.

Amar spent nearly a decade doing youth work in BiH and before he continued doing the same in Slovenia, so we asked him to compare the youth sectors in these two countries.

Amar 01”It’s strange to compare, since the contexts are completely different, but I’d like to start with similarities. I think Slovenia and BiH face similar problems in the youth sector, one of them being that competent ministries are not always willing to listen. But, Slovenia has the advantage here, because it’s easier to reach an agreement and the youth sector is an important part of the society. If you want to reach an agreement with decision makers, you don’t have to talk to 14-15 government, each with their own set of demands. I’d say that the centralization is better in Slovenia, things are better coordinated. Also, youth work entails more than it does in BiH, and I particularly like that people know what you mean when you tell them you’re a youth worker. There are three biggest differences, and the first one is that inter-sectoral cooperation is much better in Slovenia. People often consult us as youth workers. The second biggest difference is the Erasmus+ program, and I have to emphasize this. There’s a huge difference between program and partner countries in the Erasmus+ program. Slovenia is a program country with its own national agency and without an intermediary, which means easier access to more programs. For example, last year my organization had 13 international partnerships for youth work exchange programs. That means that almost every month some of my colleagues visit other countries to learn about their youth work practice. The third difference is transparency, and I think Slovenia does a better job with this. Still, there are things that BiH does better. For example, there’s the network of organizations and youth workers called the Alumni network of expert youth work associates coordinated by KULT”, says Amar.

While in formal education, he gave equal attention to non-formal education as well. In 2018, he took part in a training for expert youth work associates organized and implemented by the Institute for Youth Development KULT with the support of the Olof Palme International Centre. Amar has fond memories of the training and other participants.

“One of the reasons the training was helpful to me was the people, all the individual experiences I got to hear. Between modules, we all conducted different activities in our communities, and during the modules we shared our experience and got feedback from other participants. The second important thing is the content of the training modules. I already knew a lot of the things we learned since I was already engaged in youth work before the training, but the training helped me fill some gaps and shape my knowledge into a cohesive structure. Sometimes I got weird looks from people in Ljubljana when I tell them I know how to make communication plans for organizations, or something along those lines. The third advantage is, of course, direct contact with KULT. For me, KULT is a pillar of youth work, and I know I can rely on them for information or a referral to someone who has the information I need, and that means a lot to me. Which brings us back to people from this training. Trainers Katarina and Mirela, and other participants, were the wind in my sails on my way to live my dream and do street youth work. There was about fifteen of us, but we represent the entire country. It’s a network of people that I still work with today”, says Amar when asked about his experience with the training.

After completing the training, Amar was awarded an expert youth worker certificate. He says he’s proud of this certificate that let to many opportunities for him, even in Slovenia. The certificate formalized what he’s been doing for years.

“Even though you read about it, and other people call you a youth worker, you don’t understand what that means until you actually feel it. I felt it for the first time when I realized that I’m one of those people who help young people live up to their potential and make their ideas come true.”

Amar is now a youth worker in Ljubljana, and works for the European Solidarity Corps. He spends half his time in the youth center and the other half in the streets, parks, playgrounds, cafes, and wherever there are young people. He gets there on foot, bike or takes a bus. Amar does street youth work with young people. The organization he works for combines several approached: outreach, street youth work and detached youth work. Amar says street youth work is full of surprises, and no two days are alike. He dreams of someday seeing youth workers in BiH using this approach in their work with BiH youth.

Given the current situation with COVID-19, Amar isn’t sure what the future will bring. Although he now lives in Slovenia, it seems like he never really left BiH.

“Every time I leave BiH, I always plan to come back. Even when I was leaving bitter, because I was forced to, I still wanted to come back. I honestly don’t know if this situation will change, but I do know that the things I saw here I want to see in BiH as well. It doesn’t really matter that much where I am, but it’s important to me that my youth work somehow connects me with BiH”, says Amar.

Amar ends his story with a message to young people, inviting them to shake a leg and get into something new.

“You never know what you can learn, find out and see if you just leave your comfort zone a little bit, and take one step away from what you’re used to. Dare to try something new, even if it means just going to your local youth center and asking: “What’s up? What do you have going on today?” And never underestimate the power of youth work, because youth work is powerful like a river - it can flow through rocks”, says Amar.

YOUTH WORKERS IN BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA

Branislav 04

The youth sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina is full of professionals working tirelessly to improve the position of young people. One such dedicated youth worked is Branislav Ristić from Prnjavor. Branislav is in his final year of studies at the Department of Ecology and Environmental Protection of the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. He’s now doing what he loves most - youth work at the local and international level, at the center “Zdravo da ste”, where he works as the Project Manager and coordinates youth activities.

The idea to become a youth worker came spontaneously through a series of events. Getting involved in the NGO sector gave him a clear sense of direction in terms of personal development, his status and the status of young people in the community. His dedication to non-formal education in his own personal development led him to contribute to promoting and developing this type of education in his community.

“Becoming a youth worker in BiH is very easy. All you need to do is stay in BiH, be willing to work with youth, be understanding of their level of maturity, identify their needs and your needs, what they want and what you want, be aware of your environment, spend time with young people, create opportunities with them and for them, stay informed and involve young people in various experiential learning and decision-making processes. After using this approach for a while, I found myself at a crossroads that very clearly mapped out the directions I could take and provided me with guidelines for personal and professional development. But what’s interesting to me, is that even though I have very clear guidelines I still encounter unexpected obstacles that give me the energy to grow and develop. I think other professions that entail working with people face similar challenges, but when you’re working with young people, it’s both easier and harder in a way.

Branislav understands the importance of lifelong learning, which is why he attended the Training for Expert Youth Work Associates organized and implemented by the Institute for Youth Development KULT with the support of the Olof Palme International Center.

Branislav 03“Going through a training structured like this helped me in more than one way. First, I met new colleagues who do (or try to at least) similar things to what I’m trying in my community. Opportunities to share experiences are always welcome for every youth worker. Also, networking with people who do the same or similar things, cooperating with them, and recognizing the needs of young people who work with other young people and getting an overview of the current state of the youth work sector in BiH was all very useful and helpful for youth workers, and gave us the motivation to go to new heights in youth work. This training definitely left a positive impression on me, although I think I needed something like this a long time ago. I can’t say it was life-changing, but it was a new and positive experience. It’s the type of training that asks you to pour your soul into it and let the process lead you so the results you get are real and better. That way we let ourselves leave our comfort zone and take on various challenges at different levels. New acquaintances, new community and a new opportunity to start over. Ultimately, even if you don’t learn anything new (which is unlikely) you can say that you were a part of something where you left your own unique trace.”

Some of the most important benefits of the training for Branislav were new acquaintances, contacts, words and sentences, images, the message that people care about youth workers, which he says isn’t appreciated enough in our country.

Branislav sums up the current situation in the youth sector in BiH “BiH never had fewer young people, and the youth sector never had more work to do.”

“Those who persist are still here and want things to get back on course. Institutions are under the control of political parties, so youth clubs have the most support, and by that I mean youth branches of political parties. But in my opinion, this doesn’t have to do with youth work, as much as it is recruiting voters in between elections. Youth limited by one political party’s program lose a lot and gain very little.”

In a couple of years, he says, he expects to still be in BiH, and urges young people to observe, reflect and be active, whether staying or leaving.

“I’m happy when I meet a young person eager to improve and grow, I’m happy when young people are doing the best for themselves and their future, even if that means leaving BiH. In that case, my job is very easy and the rest is up to individual choices and the state.”

Branislav Ristić is another perfect example of a professional dedicated to building a better future through youth work, both for himself and other young people choosing to stay in BiH.

©2020 Institut za razvoj mladih KULT. All Rights Reserved.

Search