Youth Centres UP’s story
What does Youth Centres UP represent?
A little courage, a bit of craziness and a desire for change.
Youth Centres UP is a courageous solidarity project, which brought between 11thof July and 5thof September 2019, more than 125 volunteers from 25 countries around the world and Romanians, equipped with determination and willingness to do good, to develop a community.
The project was initiated and implemented by TimișCounty Youth Foundation (FITT), and because of it, the autumn of this year found Timisoara to be, more than ever, young. Friendly and welcoming, during this summer, it was enriched with 5 safe spaces for young people and not anyway, but by the common and motivated involvement of the volunteers, together with the members of the Timisoara community.
Out of solidarity, the desire to do well, the motivation to contribute to the development of a community, and the awareness of the importance of coagulation between young people eager for change in order to obtain a positive result and impact, the more than 100 national and international volunteers gathered in the city for which they were to devote their time, energy, creativity, initiative and joy to get involved. For all this, we have called them CHANGE MAKERS, and until the end, we will prove that this is what they really are.
Why Youth Centres UP?
Timisoara and the youth of Timisoara need spaces where the latter have a place of expression, leisure – a safe space for young people.
If at the level of 2014, in the study for the realization of the youth strategy of the city of Timisoara, the need to establish a youth centre at the city level is identified, at a distance of 3 years it has been proven that a single youth centre (The Youth House) cannot cope the needs of all young people in the city.
At the same time, a needs analysis emphasized a desire of young people to be able to have in their proximity (close to their home) a space for them – a space where non-formal education, cultural activities, leisure activities take place.
What did Youth Centres UP intend to do?
In the short term, to involve 100 young people from Europe in solidarity activities (in the form of volunteering) in five communities in Timisoara, to involve the community, the citizens in activities of arrangement of the 5 urban youth centers, through voluntary actions or of donations for the arrangement of centers (donations materialized only in objects necessary for the arrangement), to arrange and inaugurate 5 youth centers using the principle of community solidarity and participatory arts. At the same time, the project aimed to develop transversal skills for young volunteers, skills such as teamwork skills, sense of initiative, organizing events and communicating in a foreign language and holding a national conference to enhance the results on August 12 (International Youth Day).
In the long term, the project aimed to create communities of young people from neighbourhoods, around urban youth centres, which contribute to the development of the city, actively participating in the democratic and civic life, improving access, participation of disadvantaged groups (young people in situations of special risk or need, from disadvantaged areas)and reducing the disparities that may occur, as well as creating an example of good practice within the ESC program for both Romania and at European level.
What were the steps to become a Change maker?
From the arrival in Timisoara to its departure, the volunteers went through a complex learning process. In the non-formal or informal context, the young people learned in the 40 days spent in Timisoara how the change should start with their own person.
The first days were about getting to know… the team they were part of and working with during the 40 days, the city and the mission they had and the tools they were going to benefit from, all these as part of the Teambuilding & On Boarding training.Then, followed the days of accommodation and preparation of the action, in which, in addition to planning meetings with community members, volunteers shared responsibilities within the teams, various responsibilities aimed at both living together and the smooth running of the activity in the centers. Thus, each volunteer, had a well-established responsibility as: responsible for nutrition and hygiene in common spaces, energy conservation, or donations, photographs and writing articles.
As an important component of the project was the involvement of the community, the volunteers prepared and planned the action of attracting and convincing the community to get involved in the arrangement of the centers. Thus, open events were organized, in which the members of the community participated, having the opportunity to express their wishes and needs to which the youth centers would have to respond. Also, promotional activities (poster gluing, flyer distribution, face-to-face discussions) were organized in the community.
At the same time, the volunteers were involved in complementary activities, with the role of preparing the teams to set up well and safe the youth centres – they discovered the norms of safety and health at work and they participated in supervised planning actions, at the Youth House, for discovering and developing practical skills in using the different tools used in the arrangement.
Then came the 20 days dedicated to the arrangement of spaces – an activity that you will discover more widely, from another perspective, in the lines below.
On the 12th of August, on the International Youth Day, the International Conference for the valorization of the results took place, an event in which the focus was on them, on the volunteers changing the world and on the work done by them.
As the excitement and successes were worth celebrating, the volunteers had the role of planning the opening ceremonies of the youth centers, organizing cultural and recreational activities for the members of the community shared at the joy given by the new youth spaces.
The end of the project represented the evaluation meeting, which was the appropriate context for reflecting on the experience, the achievements, the change produced and the skills acquired.
Youth Centres UP through the eyes of the participants
In the first half of July, the volunteers began to get to know each other, to discover themselves as a team, to discover their potential and to know the city where they were going to make the change, as well as the old buildings they were going to transform in youth centers. With the overall picture in mind, they began to create, imagine and sketch how new safe spaces for young people will look, planned and held community meetings, found ways to attract Timisoara to get involved and then put everything together in practice.
“After many days of planning, we came to see the youth center. The feelings were mixed, it will take a lot of work, many hours and maybe a little love for the cause, so that the old building becomes a beacon for culture. The strange thing is, however, that Ihave no doubt that we will succeed, because the people in our team are amazingly inspired and at the same time, good and they care, that there is not the slightest fear that we will not reach our goal.”– Marietta Tselepi, Greece
The first interactions with the members of the community left the volunteers to change the world, fearing that the Timisoara people would not join them, that they would not understand the purpose of their involvement and that they would not be part of the change.
„Today we had the action in the street, so many questions appeared in our minds: can we convince them to join our mission? We tried to stay positive.”– Danjela Jakaj, Albania
However, this would only be a motivating factor for the following interactions between volunteers and community members, to bring them friendly and curious citizens, willing to help with donations in objects for arrangement or even food and water for volunteers.
“One of the main sources of our motivation came also from the support of the community. I have witnessed many examples of kindness from neighbors. One morning, we had not yet received the working tools and a man, who worked nearby, came to us with three tools and enjoyed the day. Also, other neighbors gave us water and food when we all needed it, and they also welcomed us with open arms and a smile on our faces.” –Red team (Lipovei Youth Centre)
Three weeks of effective work in youth centers were spent by young volunteers. The initial state of the buildings caused them discouragement, but working shoulder to shoulder, the spaces began to glow and color.
„This week we started cleaning the youth centre. The first time I saw the space, I thought it would probably take weeks for it to be cleaned, but now I realized that through teamwork, anything is possible. I feel that our centre is really beautiful and has a lot of prospects to become very great with a beautiful yard, I am very pleased.„– Christina Fountou, Greece
Working in the centers was not an easy task, but the desire to leave their mark on a community was the motivation of the change makers to complete the arrangement of the spaces.
„Every day this week we came home, dirty, tired, with plaster pieces in the hair. Our feet and hands are covered with cement. The feeling of fatigue is a little overwhelming for everyone, but the pride and satisfaction are even greater. How can we be so tired, sweaty and yet so happy? Maybe that’s what volunteering in about.”– Red team (Lipovei Youth Centre)
How does Youth Centres UP feel now?
„It was around eleven in the night when I finally arrived in Timisoara after two flights, a three hour stay at the Frankfurt airport and a four hour ride. I was so very tired and after my roommate brought me to my room for the next 40 days I had only the presence of mind to put on my pyjamas, wash my teeth and fall on my new bed.
The next day brought a warm sunny summer morning and an hour long walk to the Youth House. Looking back, I was so nervous and shy that first day, afraid of starting conversations with people who at the end of the project had become so very close to my heart. That first day, we painted our flag and because green and red with an yellow circle between them was kind of boring, the Portuguese decided to write “welcome” in every language that would be spoken in the project. When the Portuguese girls walked around with our flag asking everyone “Do you see your language here?” was the moment I felt that this project could be a truly wonderful thing.
Training was strange for a lack of a better word. My team, which I now think it was surely the best ( I may be biased….) was still starting to know one another and fighting out how the work together. Still, when the training ended we weren’t a proper team. Not yet. That would come later.
The first two weeks were hard, emotionally if not physically. On one hand, our centre was in such degraded state we could only wonder if we could even manage to finish on time. We didn’t have a floor! That was always on the forefront of our minds and all we could talk about. Our conversations between us and with people of other teams always, every single time, ended in the same way: “We don’t have a floor!”. On the other hand, our community engagement wasn’t very rewarding. We thought we were in a neighbourhood who didn’t care about the work we were doing and didn’t want to help. Through the next weeks, we found out just how wrong we really were.
The Red Team worked hard, so so hard. We stayed late on multiple occasions. We painted walls with only the lights from the FITT van to light our work. We would arrive at the dorms covered in paint and walls everyday. We built a floor. We spent three or four weeks working exclusively on the walls (we now hate walls). And we danced and sang while we did it. We had fun. And when the day came for our opening ceremony and we weren’t expecting more than twenty people and suddenly we had seventy inside and out of our centre…. Well, I haven’t felt more proud.
However, no matter how proud I am of our work, what I treasure most about my time in Timisoara is our everyday lives. The dorms. The small stories that made our days brighter. The common meetings spent laughing. The fact that people who are now hundreds of kilometres away from me were just down the hall or in the floor below or above me. The dinners in the second floor kitchen. The gossip of what had happened that day in the others centres. Sharing our lives so we could compare the differences and similarities between all the countries. The nights spent in the yard, dancing and singing some more. I would do it all again, the hard work and the countless hours fixing walls, just so I could walk those halls one more time, saying good morning to everyone and attend one last morning spot.
I will forever keep this project in my heart. The people I met are people whom I miss everyday. And I can only be grateful that I applied and was lucky enough to be accepted. And even that my heart broke when leaving Timisoara, even that sometimes I wake up expecting to see my roommate on the bed next to mine, I can take comfort in knowing that a piece of me was left behind in the walls of a youth centre behind the bazar and next to the school in Lipovei, Timișoara.” – Beatriz Botequilha, Portugal
„Being a part of the Youth Centres Up project was a life changing experience that also changed me as a person. If you asked me if I’d do it again, I’d never think twice before saying yes. I met amazing people from literally all over the world and made beautiful friendships that I want to keep for the rest of my life.
I had the luck to be part of an amazing team of volunteers that made the process of building that youth centre so much smoother and fun despite the challenges and we achieved the goal of making a safe place for the younger population of Timisoara. In most of the days I got to the dorm exhausted and covered in dust, cement, paint (a lot of paint) and sweat but always with the amazing feeling of knowing I was doing the right thing and that I was making a change in that community. I felt useful and that I was not wasting my summer break melting on the couch looking at my phone.
I have so many great memories from this project. From the jokes, the cultural nights and complaining about walls to the trips and chilled moments, to the talks about solidarity and knowing how to get to a consensus in your team… There’s just so much I could say about how much fun it was to be a part of this and how much I miss everyone that I could almost write a book. I came back home a different person. I gained skills, I met people, I learned a new language and got to know a lot of many different cultures.
The FITT team was amazing and they did everything to make sure we felt good during this project. They were always by our side and ready to help us if we needed a hand (or last-minute materials) and none of this would’ve been possible without them. They were one of the main reasons this project was this successful.
Ask me again. Would I repeat the experience? Definitely.
Not only I gained skills and friends and a couch to sleep on in different countries, but I also gained a family.” – Andreia Nunes, Portugal
In the end…
… teamwork, determination, creativity, solidarity were the essential elements that, together, led to a real success: 5 youth centres dressed in colour, positive life and energy, safe spaces, created by young people for young people.
The new spaces host cultural, artistic, educational, recreational events and are both implemented by FITT or other NGOs in the city for the young people of Timisoara, but the expected ones are those initiated and organized by the young inhabitants of the Timisoara neighborhoods. Youth centers are the place where young people will be at the table with creativity, they will imagine initiatives, they will sing with their plans, they will play with ideas and they will carry out and put together the puzzles of the activities initiated by them, all under the guidance and with FITT support.
Youth Centers UP 2019 was just the beginning, our wish being that by 2021, Timișoara will have 21 youth centers: The Youth House and another 20 neighborhood youth centers. Fortunately, it is not just our wish:
„Congratulations, dear young people from Timisoara and from the partner countries! You did a wonderful job! Wonderful, practical and mentally! We need change makers like you, people who do not like what is wrong, but also who do not like and that’sit, but who, do not like and who are twisted in cliches, but enthusiastic, positive, concrete change makers! Continue to count on me, you will always have me by your side, as always!
(…) during 2020 another 15 (youth centers), so that in 2021, with the Youth House in the lead, to have in our city a total of 21 centers dedicated to young people! So, we can say on this subject: „There is nowhere as in Timișoara!” – Nicolae Robu, Mayor of Timișoara
Lipovei Youth Center – Intrarea Iasomiei no. 4
Ana-Flavia Constantin; Andiol Mucolli; Andreia Nunes; Antonia Pup; Arus Sukiasyan; Augusta Myftaraj; Beatriz Botequilha; Bogdan Chiș; Constança Pereira; Daliana Elena Pavel; Dashgin Savalanli; Enriko Allamani; Izabella Kovacs; Johannes Bulling; Karine Javakhyan; Ksenija Krivokapić; Maria Kęsy; Matanat Aliyeva; Milica Vasic; Olga Arkhipova; Pedro Paulo Kropf Abib Ladeira; Polina Chechina; Teona Menapire; Mariam Mekerishvili.
Calea Martirilor Youth Center – Str. Martir Elena Nicoară no. 5
Aglaia Maria Kyriakou; Alexandru Andoni; Alexandru Dohotaru; Alexey Kutsenko; Anastasia Alfirii; Antonio Naumoski; Ashot Gabrielian; Daniel Qartvelishvili; Evgenia Bathrellou; Gökçe Eyi; Hera Kamani; Luka Milorava; Milena Ohanyan; Mokgaetji Margueritte Pitjeng; Rinora Mucolli; Rita Constantino; Sasha Ostash; Seymur Abdullayen; Siranush Najaryan; Somila Dayile; Stefani Sekuloska; Szilvia Mundrucz; Zari Avramovici; Șule Sarpkaya.
Șagului Youth Center – Aleea Poeniței no. 2
Alen Saliu; Ana Sofia Barata; Anahit Gharibyan; Antonio Furchi; Beatriz Ferreira; Christina Fountou; Davud Azizov; Elvedina Čajdin; Gözde Șiir; Ioana Băltărețu; Irene Cuadrado Herranz; Karine Khachatryan; Levan Sidiani; Luka Sebiskveradze ; Maria Dinca; Maria-Eftychia Tselepi ; Obada Alzeer Alhouseini; Olsa Nela; Pedro Silva; Pieloiu Stefania; Sena Akbulut; Sferle Alina; Vasile Grosu; Vasileios Tsalos; Danjela Jakaj.
Fratelia Youth Center – Gavril Musicescu, PT 83
Ayman El-melegy; Bianca Cernușcă; Blessing Nkiruka Anioke; Dan Crișan; David Herrero; Elona Mara; Fikri Berk Kurtuluș; Kawther Ghanem; Laura Anamaria Mierea; Mădălina Penciuc; Maria Carmen Frigerio; Mohamed Khoukha; Nanle Gusen; Odunayo Adeniyi; Osama Meqbel; Pavel Teodora; Ștefan Bucșă; Radhia Boussadia; Xhuljana Khulia.
Calea Aradului Youth Center – Str. Dej no 4
Ghulam Abbas; Greta Bushe; Hager Abdelwahid; Katsiaryna Kryvaltsevich; Lediana Shoraj; Mohammad Almohtasib ; Rejubi Peter Enim; SandaDevčić; Silvia Santo; Yusuf Karakus; Adrian Breha; Alexandra Palade; Andra Bireescu; Cristian Florin Anghel; Endri Cuedari; Erkida Frataraku; Fabjola Karaj; George Bunescu; Michael Talaat.