Photo: Igor Čančarević | Unsplash

Youth workers as agent for change

Youth work has been defined by the prevailing ideologies and social, political and economic trends of time and place. Different models have been pursued on how to engage with young people and role of youth workers and educationalists.

In the last decades the radical tradition of youth work has been fading and youth workers have been seen more and more as service providers for youth. The EU and national governments are providing youth workers resources such as training, funds and space to keep the youth out of trouble.

The trend is to work on the ‘problem’ that young people may face for example, single mothers, drugs and addiction, juvenile crime, excluded young people. This model of engagement focusing on the individual has no scope for young people to collectively challenge the existing power structures. The current fear of radicalization further hinders youth workers possibilities of engaging young people in activities that facilitate resistance to oppression.

Today the terms “terrorism”, “extremism” and “ radicalization” invoke a certain image in our minds and portrays youth, in particular Muslim youth, as manipulative objects that can be easily misled towards violent behavior if not saved by the state

Youth work and educational institutions are seen as most powerful state mechanism to counter that threat. This has led to policies that aim to tame youth, rather than see them as important positive actors and change makers in society. For those of us who are working with young people we need to critically assess our motivation, role and competence for the work we do. How are we working with the youth? Why are we working with young people and do we have the capacities we need to foster positive change in young people’s life as well as in society.

Now it is time for the youth workers to be brave again! We need to recall the radical traditions of youth work. We can support the youth to understand the unequal power structures in society and what they can do if they want to challenge the socio-political status quo. In order to do that, firstly we need to reflect whether we want to uphold the existing unequal power structures or are we ready to challenge them?

Do we notice the power structures which are complex and often subtle in nature or are these complexities invisible?

How do we analyse power? How do we hear different perspectives? How can we transfer analytical skills to young people and help them to make sense of their realities and their role in society? How can we help the young people to use their power and ability to create alliances to facilitate change in their realities?

Some of the core values of youth work include critical dialogue, equality of opportunity, respect and participation which is voluntary and not compulsory. Reflecting upon these values a youth workers role is about acting as a catalyst for change and empower young people to lead and take actions on the issues that matter to them. Supporting them through non-formal education and creating opportunities for young people to build their critical thinking and support them to explore the issues in their realities, acknowledge legitimate feelings of anger and help to translate this into non-violent actions utilizing the democratic processes and legitimate tools available in our societies.

Is youth work today aspiring to those core values and ideals or has institutionalization of youth work made us servants of the state rather than change makers? Whose purpose does this serve?

The future direction of youth work is closely related to how we co-create and aspire to a higher consciousness in society.

Farkhanda Chaudhry and Riikka Jalonen

Farkhanda Chaundhry ja Riikka Jalonen

Ms Riikka Jalonen is the Executive Director at the Finnish Peace Education Institute, and Ms Farkhanda Chaudhry is a community worker from Glasgow. They both together and on their own agitate young people to actively change the world and to work for peace. The dynamic duo found each other when they were appointed as trainers to the “Piece of Peace in Piispala” training course financed by the Erasmus+-Youth in Action Programme.

Photo: Heidi Jyrkkä