Youth work is all about inclusion, especially at the YES Forum. And although the past few years – even decades – have shown political education is more urgent than ever, it is an area in which inclusion remains a challenge. To guarantee the durability of modern democracies through their social cohesion, how can we build bridges between fragmented people, especially among youth?
This is the main concern behind the “Europe through young Eyes: Exchange, Explore, Exhibit” project. Europe3E therefore experimented innovative methods to open political education to all youth. That is, ways to help young people engaging in the public debate, regardless of their difficulties.
With the involvement of youth workers and young people with fewer opportunities from different EU countries, Europe3E especially explored the benefits of combining two youth work approaches. In the last few years, they were successfully – but independently – applied in two other projects:
Creativity as an obstacle-free channel for youth expression:
“Our Life. Our Voice” used creative peer-research methods to let young people in a situation of poverty express themselves about this issue. Europe3E focused on a different topic, EU politics, through the Photovoice method!
Accessible & Inclusive Political Education through games:
“YourEP” designed a political simulation of the European Parliament with young disadvantaged people to better fit their specific needs. Europe3E built upon this method to make it even more accessible by combining “mock politics” with Photovoice!
To put it shortly, Europe3E focused on a more personal level to engage those young people who we could not reach in earlier projects, and opened the doors of political education even wider!
The implementation of the „Europe3E“ project activities
Preparation and training of the participants. Each partner organisation will recruit 5 youngsters with fewer opportunities and 2 staff members to support them, to take part in one TPM as well as one Transnational Training in Brussels on the topics of Europe, EU politics creative research and photography.
Research, gathering of results & political simulation. The participants will participate in a second TPM, and a Transnational Training in Strasbourg, in order to go further into activities on EU citizenship and to take part in a political simulation.
Dissemination of Intellectual Outputs, Advocacy work. Lastly, A photo exhibition will be organised, as well as discussions about policy recommendations, to spread them in the youth sector to policy makers and beyond through networks of partners.
Action Jeunesse Pessac
Since its registration in 1962, the association Action Jeunesse Pessac (AJP) has been active as a youth and social specialised prevention club („club de prévention spécialisée“) in the French commune of Pessac, in Bordeaux’s area.
Jongerenwerk Barkema & de Haan is an organization working with youngsters in the Northern part of the Netherlands since 2001. Participation, activation and care for youngsters are the main topics and activities of this organization.
The Institute of Training & Vocational Guidance (IEKEP) founded in 1990, is a private non-profit organization, functioning in the region of Attica as an accredited vocational training center.
ÖJAB is a nonprofit organization that provides students and other young people with a home near their places of education, offers inpatient and mobile care, and pursues projects in the fields of education, integration, refugee relief, and development cooperation.
St. Johannis GmbH
The St. Johannis GmbH is a 100% subsidiary of the Foundation Evangelical Youth Services St. Johannis Bernburg. This was founded in 1863 as a home for unwed mothers. Today the focus is on guiding,
counseling and caring for children and adolescents on different places in heart of saxony –anhalt.
The YES Forum is a network of organisations working with and for young people who face disadvantages stemming from their socio-economic background, educational difficulties, discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity, and/or geographical seclusion.
Europe3E Behind the scenes: a story of an Erasmus+ project surviving the Covid-19 apocalypse
Project approved! Time to meet and plan ahead.
With no sign of a nasty virus yet, Europe3E starts as planned! In November 2019, all partners meet in Bernburg, Germany, to lay the ground for the first phase of the project.
The group involves both youth & social workers and young participants themselves. They are briefly introduced to the Photovoice method and discuss its use in the project. The group also enjoys visiting Bernburg and some side-activities.
Among these, young people not only contribute with ideas about the whole project, but even paint the design of the Europe3E logo together! This leads to heart-warming pictures with partners meeting in person and standing close to each other for the last time before long.
“In a parallel universe …”
The Covid-19 has not appeared yet at this time, so it looks like the nicely laid-out plans of the partnership can stand!
The plans are still simple. First, Europe3E is supposed to train participants to use the Photovoice method to express their opinions, concerns, questions etc about the European Union as young people through a creative peer-research method: taking artistic pictures! A transnational training in mid-2020 in Brussels will provide the right skills to all partners, who will apply them in local meetings with young participants over the following months to gather Photovoice pictures.
Then a second phase will use these results to design a political simulation of the European Parliament focused on the major areas of interest identified through Photovoice. Young participants will even meet in person for such a big simulation in Strasbourg in late 2020. In the meantime, Photovoice results and the simulation lead to different products: a photo exhibition, Policy Recommendations based on the youngsters’ voice, a Handbook about Photovoice … These plans would not survive the following months though!
December 2019 – January 2020
While signals arise from China, slowly, nobody realizes how big a threat the newly discovered virus is. New flus & coronaviruses have appeared now and then in the past few decades, and it’s always been rather ok so far, at least in Europe. Why would it be different?
Time to adapt …
The situation is obviously getting worse: the W.H.O. just declared a global health emergency. But for how long? How bad can it really get?
As nobody really knows what’s next, plans remain mostly unchanged in the long-term. But when the first lock-downs are enforced all over Europe in March 2020, Europe3E’s careful planners decide to postpone the Photovoice transnational training planned in Brussels in June.
While keeping finders crossed: hopefully, there will be no need to postpone more than this seminar. Or worse, to cancel activities entirely.
Coping in an ocean of uncertainty
Covid-19 restrictions, and especially lock-downs, are mainly lifted over the 2020 summer across the European Union. Concerns and uncertainty remain extremely high however, forcing everybody to plan ahead very carefully.
International projects are even harder to keep alive: while local activities can resume under certain conditions, borders remain mostly closed to people without an essential need to travel. Over the weeks, borders close, reopen, are closed again all over Europe. Worse, there is no single policy in the European Union: participants from a country can travel to Austria but not Germany for instance. Planning physical international events remains impossible.
It is now obvious that this won’t radically improve before a while. So the Europe3E partnership adapts its plans again and again, exploring solutions to keep the project going in a secure way:
- The 2nd Transnational Partners Meeting in September 2020 in Vienna is maintained, but actual planning is on hold. A hybrid solution is already envisaged to organise it whatever happens: partners who can travel can meet in Vienna, and include the others who can’t cross borders online.
- The 1st Transnational Training on Photovoice will almost certainly be organised online entirely. The Europe3E partnership imagines many plans to allow young participants to travel nonetheless, in safe conditions. Maybe smaller bilateral meetings among partners instead of a big international seminar?
In the meantime, most partners manage to recruit young participants despite the many obstacles: lock-downs, schools closed …
But Together Trust, the British partner, is slowly getting away however: the situation at the time is even worse in the United Kingdom, and the priority is to allow their students with autism to prepare and pass their exams.
The partnership’s dedication and creativity allows to make some progress despite how difficult planning remains: the 2nd Transnational Partners Meeting is indeed organised in Vienna in September!
To let all partners participate, it is a hybrid meeting: half the partners meet in person on site, the other half join them online. Technical aspects work perfectly thanks to the local partner OEJAB, its staff, facilities and support.
On-site, everybody is already used to wearing face masks, using hydroalcoholic gel, keeping distance with other participants … leading to the weirdest group pictures seen by the YES Forum so far!
Finding a silver lining has become a coping mechanism, and the few partners who could come get an exceptional one: the lack of tourists leads to a unique experience, few people have visited an empty Vienna in their lifetime!
After the 2nd Partners Meeting in Vienna, the focus is on organising the postponed 1st Transnational Training on Photovoice. For a while, Europe3E partners keep imagining scenarios allowing young participants to travel while staying safe. The main idea is to organise bilateral meetings gathering smaller groups, matching partners who can travel to each other’s countries: each “pair” would then meet the others online for the transnational training, while having time to enjoy intercultural activities on-site.
Unfortunately, the Europe3E buzzing minds’ solutions can’t happen in the end: travelling remains either forbidden or way too complicated for partners.
Fortunately, this 1st Transnational Training happens nonetheless! It is 100% online, and still manages to provide participants with the Photovoice skills to express themselves in the later stages of the project.
Despite masked participants behind screens, a crushing silence in the “room” due to disciplined participants with muted microphones, it feels good to be able to meet everybody and make progress!
December 2020 -February 2021
In late 2020, Covid-19 vaccination campaigns start all over Europe. They bring hope, but can’t provide results in the short-term: most of the European Union enters a new lock-down period, which will last until February, March, or even April in some countries.
Europe3E partners are as stubborn as ever though! The partnerships sticks together and good communication allows to fine-tune plans on a regular basis.
Progress is slowed down by the lock-downs and ever-changing Covid-19 restrictions in all partner countries. It takes time, partners need the original deadline to be postponed, but in the end they are successful: young participants express themselves through the Photovoice method! It allows them to voice their opinions, concerns, ideas, questions etc on the European Union as young people: it is not a surprise at this point, the Covid-19 appears in many pictures.
Freedom! (Kind of)
Lock-downs are progressively lifted, partners and young participants can breathe fresh air again. As they can all finally meet in person, the Photovoice results are finalized!
It is time to use the young participants’ creativity to plan ahead. The 3rd Transnational Partners Meeting in Stuttgart is postponed though, as travelling remains near impossible: a smaller online meeting replaces it, and partners hope they can meet in person for the actual Transnational Meeting a few months later.
The March 2021 Online Meeting focuses on “extracting” key ideas for the future Europe3E political simulation. Unsurprisingly, prominent themes among the youngsters’ pictures include “Restrictions”, “Covid-19” and such. Most other themes remain “tainted” by the Covid-19: “Education” is about how young students are being deprived of it, “Environment” is about how face masks are a “new waste” to be managed.
From the many topics identified through the Photovoice process, young participants have a say and “elect” two of them. “Restrictions & Freedom” and “Education” win the most votes: they will therefore be the themes of the Europe3E simulation of the European Parliament!
Progress! Towards (smaller) Europe3E simulations
Based on the Photovoice results, extracted themes and young people’s final choice of two of them, the design of the Europe3E political simulation of the European Parliament is finalized.
Compared to original plans, it has evolved not only to take into account the young participants’ (Photo) voice, but also to adapt to the Covid-19 crisis. It takes an unexpected turn (by 2019’s standards):
- The Europe3E simulation is entirely designed to fit smaller groups since a big Transnational simulation remains impossible. Partners will meet in pairs, in Bilateral meetings. This way, each simulation will gather less than 10 participants to remain safe from Covid-19 infections. Smaller groups indeed make “safe” logistics a lot easier: it is possible to keep distance between participants, book accommodation which avoids multiple participants in the same bedroom etc.
- The Europe3E simulation material is also designed to allow partners to organise these smaller simulations autonomously. Like a board game, it provides them with clear and easy instructions, “Role cards”, everything they need to go through such a simulation without being experts about the European Parliament!
In May 2021, Europe3E’s 3rd Transnational Partners Meeting finally happens to present the brand new Europe3E small simulation of the European Parliament developed by the YES Forum to the partnership. It remains, unfortunately, entirely online: it is too soon to travel again. But it looks like progress in national vaccination campaigns will allow partners to finally meet in “matching pairs over the next few months! In June-August, the plan is indeed for them to organise small Bilateral Meetings, enjoy the Political Simulation of the European Parliament, and through these to gather the young participants’ views on two “Europe3E EU laws”:
- On “Restrictions & Freedom”, the concrete “EU law” which young “Europe3E MEPs” will negotiate is more of a surprise: a “Europe3E Regulation on Climate Change Lock-Downs” will actually find a silver lining in a year of lock-downs, by exploring their positive impact on climate change!
- “Education” is also impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic: the Europe3E simulations will debate a “Europe3E Resolution on Reopening Public Spaces & Educational Institutions in a Fair Way“, expressing a common feeling among a “sacrificed youth”.
Whimsical borders & Stubborn partners
In mid-2021, the project enters its phase. Partners and their young people are all prepared and comfortable with the adapted and flexible “Europe3E Small Simulation” material. Time to use it and all become “Members of the Europe3E Parliament”!
The list of ways to play this Europe3E simulation of the European Parliament has gotten longer however. Ideally, all partners will meet in pairs to organise Bilateral Exchanges, and therefore go through binational political simulations.
But planning such trips, even for smaller groups than originally envisioned, remains a struggle. Most partners still face crucial difficulties: intermittent lock-downs, “on & off” borders, a harder access to Covid-19 vaccination for the disadvantaged youth they work with …
In the end, the Europe3E simulation of the European Parliament happens nonetheless! The only Bilateral Exchange planned by the German and Austrian partners has to be cancelled at the last minute, but nobody gives up, and local simulations – still hybrid – eventually happen in the Netherlands, Austria & Greece! As these are national simulations, involving participants with a similar cultural background, the YES Forum comes up with a final creative alternative to organise a Europe3E simulation of the European Parliament with an intercultural aspect: inviting young participants to come along with partners’ staff in the last “Transnational Project Meeting” in Cologne in October to play a last – European for real! – Europe3E simulation.
A final Transnational Project Meeting to meet in person at last!
On 4-5 October, Europe3E partners meet in Cologne for their final “Transnational Project Meeting”.
The event is a unique opportunity to conclude the Europe3E project with not only its official partners, but also a wider group of social & youth workers from within and without the YES Forum network. Practitioners from the youth & social field can indeed learn about and exchange on Europe3E’s innovative combination of the Photovoice method and a political simulation of the European Parliament. As the project has coincided „perfectly“ with the Covid-19 pandemic’s emergence, discussions also naturally address how Europe3E has coped and has managed to achieve its objectives nonetheless.
Young Europe3E participants also join to finally meet after 2 years during which the Covid-19 has made it impossible … except through laptop screens. To celebrate, they enjoy a guided tour of Köln together, but also go through a final edition of Europe3E’s political simulation of the European Parliament! The results of their brief careers as Members of the Europe3E Parliament will now allow to finalize all Europe3E’s official publications: stay tuned!