YOUTH WORKERS IN BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA

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We continue our series about youth workers in Bosnia and Herzegovina with a story about Dejan Rađen from Brčko. Dejan is a 25-year-old with a degree in Architecture. His coworkers say he’s ambitious and amicable, and see him as an example of how youth work shapes people from an early age. Dejan agrees with them - he really was shaped by youth work.

Dejan is happy to talk about his beginnings in youth work, which is now his profession. 

– When you ask little kids what they want to be when they grow up, they don’t usually say youth worker. Many don’t know what that means, and many never find out. The first activities I took part in were in high school and they were organized by the PRONI Center, when I now work. I looked up to the trainers and youth workers and dreamed of doing the same. It began only as a childhood dream that in time turned into decisions that made the dream come true.

Big changes take time, and wishes don’t come true overnight, so Dejan will always emphasize that hard work and giving his all to his job is what led him where he is now. He thinks the road to success isn’t a straight line; to him it looks more like a pyramid.  

- I think that in this sector we all go through a pyramid-shaped learning process. You start off as a participant, in time you grow into an activist, then a volunteer. Then you learn and improve until you get a chance to take part in trainings for trainers where you get a chance to put to use everything you’ve learned so far.  Learning and improving is what took the longest for me in this process. I spent around two years taking part in trainings and learning on my own. That’s when I realized that I want to do this professionally.

Being someone who values lifelong education and invests in his development, Dejan took part in the 2015 Training for Expert Youth Work Associates conducted by the Institute for Youth Development KULT with the support of the Olof Palme International Center.

– This training was a way for me to hone my skills in youth work. I think that just one training or one university program is not enough to teach someone how to be a youth worker - it takes more than that, it takes combining experiences. This training was very important for me, because once I completed it I was officially an Expert Youth Work Associate, which the Agency for Statistics included in the classification of professions in FBiH. I was finally able to explain to my parents what it is that I do exactly.

From September 2017, Dejan has been working at the PRONI Center for Youth Development and is currently their Youth Work Manager. For the past year, he has been coordinating the work of the PRONI Youth Club in Banja Luka. Every week in his organization he works with young people from BiH and the region but is happy to respond to invitations by other organizations to work as a trainer/youth worker/coordinator. For him, the best part of the job is seeing the positive impact you have on a young person’s life.

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When it comes to the youth sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina, he is an optimist:

– We’ve seen a positive change over the last few years, with a growing number of young people and organizations getting involved in youth work. International organizations took on too much work, without investing enough in building the capacities of local organizations. Cooperation among organizations in BiH also has room for improvement, since they tend to treat each other more as competition than partners.

Dejan Rađen is another young man who is planning to build his future in Bosnia and Herzegovina, although he admits that he came close to deciding to leave several times before. He says he stayed because of this sector and the chances that he was brave enough to take, and that helped him transition into adulthood.  His advice to young people he works with and all those who choose to stay is to invest in themselves, improve, avoid complaining and blaming others and take responsibility for making the best of every day.

YOUTH WORKERS OF BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA

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Marijan Tustonja is a 25-year-old with an MA in Social Work. At first glance, Marijan is a shy young man, but his story is one of a brave struggle against a life that pushed him to his limits and ultimately forged a strong, successful young man. At the age of 6, Marijan was separated from his mother and siblings, due to the difficult conditions the family was living in. He was taken to Mothers Village, in Međugorje, where he lived until the age of 18.

The adversity he faced in life left him exposed to stigmatization. Despite the hardship, Marijan was valedictorian of his high school.

– For as long as I can remember, I’ve always told myself that no matter what my circumstances are I can never give up. Instead, I have to invest in myself so one day I can look back and say I’ve achieved something thanks to everything I’ve learned. I didn’t have anyone who would “give me a push”.

As a freshman, he joined ZAMFIS, the Association of Social Work Students and started to actively fight for equal rights for all. During the final year of his MA program, he took over the leadership of the Student Assembly, as the first Social Work student in this role.

One good thing led to another, and his hard work and dedication started paying off. It was a rocky road, but now Marijan has an MA in Social Work and is working as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Social Work of the University of Mostar’s Faculty of Philosophy.

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During 2017, he took part in a training for Expert Associates on Youth Work conducted by the Institute for Youth Development KULT with the support of Olof Palme International Center. During the training, Marijan’s proactive attitude and team spirit shone through and in February he became a certified Expert Associate on Youth Work. He now uses his non-formal education and youth work methods in formal education and his work with students.

– I think the most important thing the training for Expert Associates on Youth Work taught me is to discover what young people need and what problems they’re facing. Young people being students, in my case. I particularly try to support students with developmental disabilities. I want to amplify their voices so they can be heard. I always tell myself I need to gauge what young people need, be approachable and ask them what they want and expect from me, and then use that input to plan the steps I need to take.

Marijan says that life sometimes has a strange way of preparing us and giving us strength for things ahead. Although Marijan’s life was full of obstacles, his main focus was always equality and fighting for those who are marginalized, who can’t fight for themselves.  

– The training really made me aware of my rights as a citizen of this country, it taught me to speak up about problems I have. Before the training, Marijan thought he could do everything alone because that’s what he always had to do. However, the people I met during the training made me feel and think like a part of a team. I think that we improve, grow and mature a bit every day. I firmly believe that we are in charge of our own destiny and that individuals can make change happen, but we can’t do it alone.

Marijan Tustonja is living proof that investing in yourself and your education gives you the best return on investment. A positive example of young people who stay and fight for a healthier society.

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Some people were born to change the world and Tamara Cvetković is one of them. This 30-year-old spent two thirds of her life as an activist and fighter for human rights. Tamara’s story doesn’t begin with fanfare and fireworks, but her dedication to social activism is certainly worthy of applause. She earned her degree at the Faculty of Pedagogy in Bijeljina. Like many other young people who don’t buckle under negative political pressure, she lost her job. But, her disappointment with the system in BiH didn’t discourage her. On the contrary - it led her to dedicate more time to activism and meeting like-minded young people.

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Tea Pucar is a 24-year-old from Stockholm, with BiH roots. Tea is an Anthropology graduate from the Upsala University in Sweden, and her Master’s Thesis was titled “Effect of Language on Youth in Mostar”. Tea’s research for her thesis focused on the ways youth in Mostar use language to strengthen and prove their collective identity.

Tea is very experienced with projects focusing on minorities, democracy, and sustainable development. Last year, she spent six months interning as a Project Coordinator and Amnesty International Sweden.

Her desire to learn about the culture of the country her family hails from led Tea to Sarajevo, where she will spend three months interning at the Institute for Youth Development KULT. She said she found the Institute while surfing the web and looking for an organization in BiH where she could intern.

Tea’s internship includes improving and applying training curricula when working with groups of young people attending the Institute’s courses. The hands-on work she does gives her an opportunity to learn about CSOs and the way they function in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Her previous experience and knowledge is valuable for improving our internal procedures and manuals, intended to provide better access to international volunteers. Tea spends every single moment learning and focusing on personal development, all while happily sharing her knowledge with others by holding English and Swedish language workshops with volunteers.

 “I was looking for an organization where I could intern and learn about the system in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and I found the Institute for Youth Development KULT. I was thrilled, especially because of the Institute’s belief that youth are the ones who can affect democratic change in societies. My previous experience with international projects taught me the importance of networking and cooperation between government institutions and CSOs. I believe that emphasis should be on empowering citizens to take initiative. That’s why I decided to reach out to the Institute for Youth Development KULT. During my three-month internship, my aim is to research youth policies - do they exist and are they implemented - learn about youth activism and BiH legislation on youth, and compare my findings with the situation in Sweden”, said Tea. She added that her internship at the Institute also taught her about the work that the Kingdom of Sweden does in this country.

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IMG 0302During the fourth module of the Training for Youth Work Associates, we learned about two topics: organizational management and public advocacy. During this module, the participants learned about the stability of organizations and the division of labor and responsibilities within organizations. They used practical examples to learn about the Theory of Change, time management and planning activities.

“During the last two days, we had a chance to analyze and think about the current state of the organizations we work in. We learned more about the legislative framework we’re bound by, about personal organization and useful tools. Another useful aspect was sharing our experiences from the field. We went into this process with an open mind, willing to acknowledge the factors that hinder our work, and create potential solutions. This module provided me with a lot of useful advice, and I’m going back to my organization prepared and motivated”, said Samra Ribić, Chairwoman of the Youth Council of the City of Srebrenik.

In the second part of the module, focusing on advocacy, participants from 13 local communities engaged in interactive work and experiential learning about defining and presenting specific problems and possible solutions, and creating public advocacy campaigns aligned with the needs and problems of their communities.

“Learning about public advocacy is very important for us as youth workers, so that we can work on improving the position of youth in an effective, comprehensive way. We learned a lot about mechanisms, tools and methods used to launch advocacy initiatives”, said Jelena Brkić from the Foundation Schuler Helfen Leben.

The fourth, final module of the Training for Youth Work associates was held on November 13-16, 2019 at the Educational-Leisure Center for Youth SPAJALICA in Ilidža.

The training for expert associates on youth work comprises four training modules, practical work and testing. The topics are: youth work, communication with youth, social competences and organizational skills in youth work.

Expert associates on youth work, more commonly known as youth workers, are persons employed at youth centers, youth clubs, youth organizations, organizations working with youth or public institutions that support youth development. Expert associates on youth work support the professional, personal and educational development of young people. By working with youth on different ideas and initiatives, expert associates on youth work join forces with youth in improving their communities.

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The third module of the Training for Expert Youth Work Associates, more commonly known as Youth Workers, was focused on social skills.

Training participants from 13 communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina learned about social skills they as youth workers need to have to adequately recognize, understand and respond to the needs and problems of young people they work with. Interactive activities and opportunities to share experiences with others helped the participants learn about civil activism, volunteering and legislation concerning youth in BiH.

“This module, and everything I’ve learned during the training will definitely be useful to me in my future work. I can wholeheartedly recommend this training to all young people ready to drive the change they want to see in their country. Definitely the best experience that I could give myself, in addition to university education.”, said Mateo Vukoja from the Youth Association “Korak” from Kiseljak.

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The training for expert associates on youth work comprises four training modules, practical work, and testing. The topics include: youth work, communication with youth, social competences and organizational skills in youth work.

Expert associates on youth work, more commonly known as youth workers, are persons employed at youth centers, youth clubs, youth organizations, organizations working with youth or public institutions that support youth development. Expert associates on youth work support the professional, personal and educational development of young people. By working with youth on different ideas and initiatives, expert associates on youth work join forces with youth in improving their communities.

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