Importance of youth work

According to the Census in 2003 Montenegro has 620.145 citizens. Out of this number 143.338 persons are young people, 15 to 29 years of age - which makes up 23.2 % of the entire population. In statistical terms the youth in Montenegro are quite “invisible”: so far very limited effort had been invested toward meeting the needs, interests and aims of young people in researches and as a result there is just insufficient relevant data for this population available. (National Youth Action Plan, 2006)

Youth work is of great importance in making youth in Montenegro visible. Smith and Young (Smith, M., 2000; Young, K., 1999) defined the youth work in the following way: "Youth work is the process of creating environment where young people are included on a voluntary basis in activities that use non-formal education methods. Youth work is a planned education program, created with the purpose of providing support to young people in the process of independence by having a youth worker who is helping young people in their personal and social development in order to become active members of the society. Youth work is: a) complement to the formal academic or trade education and training, b) implemented by professional youth workers and volunteers".

Forum MNE is an NGO in Montenegro whose main field of work is youth work. I will present you, looking through the prism of the 8 years’ experience of  Forum MNE, three types of youth work, organized according to the methods we use:

Individual work - consists of working with individuals in order to achieve their full personal and professional development. As common forms of individual work we use meetings, sessions, counseling or mentoring, where the focus is placed on the person and his/her personal needs. By working with youth in that manner we provide individual support, while taking care of the needs of young people, individuals are thought to be conscious and responsible toward themselves, community and society which they are a part of. Through the discussions we are trying to direct young person to find the best possible solutions for himself/herself, and also to develop a constructive attitude towards others. The process itself is empowering because it provides the young person the opportunity to reflect on his/her own ideas and thinking. During the process we develop trust, confidentiality, reciprocity, mutual respect, support and challenge. In this way a young person gets the confirmation that youth work really strives to achieve well-being of the individual, that individual will not be ignored, which contributes to the higher level of  motivation of participants to engage.

Group work - a method where several people work together as a team, with the aim of learning, where participants and trainers are responsible for the learning conditions. We use group work on educational and creative workshops which are conducted by youth workers in youth clubs, on a training course for youth leaders, as well as on educational youth summer camps, which represent a special type of youth work. It is very important to emphasize that education through trainings and workshops, which are by their nature active and participatory, is based on a voluntary basis and participants aren’t passive recipients of knowledge, but they actively learn through experience, learn from each others through various activities: discussions, simulations of real situations, case studies. In that way we are doing on supporting the capacity of participants to deal with their emotions, and we work against capacities that oppose the ability to act actively and with motivation. Through specialized workshops and training sessions in which the focus is on personal and social development young people acquire specific skills that will help them in their everyday life and professional work. Some of them are: self-confidence and self-awareness, communication skills, interpersonal skills, research, emotions management, understanding and identifying with others, develop values and attitudes, problem solving, negotiation skills, action planning, assessment of their skills etc.

Community development is a method that connects the community, empower and educate individuals, groups and institutions to work together on common goals and needs in order to achieve greater effectiveness and better results. Community development is a collective action that deals with various issues that have impact on the lives of individuals, groups and communities. Not only  we encourage and support the actions of young people in their local communities (whether it comes to organizing events, the festivals of youth, sports, cultural events, restoration of a sport field), but at the same time, cooperate with institutions and civil society organizations to improve position of youth. We try that youth are seen as a tremendous resource and not to be ignored and put into the background, but we work on a mechanisms for structured care for youth. Trying to achieve this goal we are working on recognition of profession of youth workers, we organize and implement trainings for teachers, participate in the creation of umbrella organization for young people, were included in the creation of the National Youth Action Plan, as well as in the adoption of local plans. We’re making efforts to develop a society in which young people will have built values, will be empowered to consciously, actively and responsibly contribute to the development of democratic, civil and successful society.

Through the methodology of youth work, we consciously try to help young people to gain knowledge, skills and feelings that they need to be able to meet their development needs and the need of others. According to Mark Smith, in his book "Creators, not consumers" (Mark Smith; Creators not consumers), "Social Education enables young people to empower themselves as personalities, but also their independence and determination, so that they can take an active role in the community they live in and work to influence the social structure."

I hope I have managed to highlight the importance of youth work, the effectiveness of its methods and the necessity of joint actions in order to achieve better, exuberant, productive and happier life for young people.

Sandra Smolović
Youth work coordinator
Forum MNE
Montenegro