I was recently privileged enough to spend two weeks in the Balkans on an EU programme called Youth In Action. YIA is a programme run by the European Commission to promote cooperation and friendships between different nationalities across Europe. It runs various programmes, reimburses 70% of your travel fees, and pays for all your food and accommodation and for the workshops on the programme. More information can be found here.
The first week was in Avala, just outside Belgrade, Serbia. This was what is called a “Youth Exchange” where young people from across Europe (we had groups from the UK, Spain, Norway, Macedonia, Belarus and of course Serbia) meet up and discuss a topic of common interest, in this case we were discussing the concept of identity in Europe. The workshops allowed us to discuss our own identity and what we felt were common themes of European identity. The week wasn’t a holiday, there was a lot of work involved in the workshops, but it was a lot of fun. I met some incredible people and we spent some time in Belgrade, which is a wonderful city. The workshops were fun and imaginative and I can heartily recommend both Serbia and the YIA programme.
The second week was in Ponikva, in the Balkan mountains in the north of Macedonia. This was not a youth exchange, but a training course, on the subject of Gender Equality. The objective of TCs in the YIA programme is to equip young people with the skills to make a difference in their own countries; the objective of this programme was to train us to run workshops on women’s rights. This was even more hard work than the youth exchange in Serbia, but was incredibly thought-provoking and also goes on the CV as a qualification through the “Youth Pass” system. The Macedonian week was even more diverse, with participants from the UK, Macedonia, France, Sweden, Serbia, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, Albania, Kosovo and Lithuania. Several of the participants are now organising women’s rights workshops, myself and four others are in the early stages of planning a Youth Exchange on women’s rights to be held in Kosovo next May.
Perhaps the most amazing part of these opportunities is the people you meet. You really get to realise that people are the same everywhere and that the problems we face in Europe are best solved by working across borders and cultures. The first week in Serbia was in early October, and 3 months later I still talk online with many of the participants on a daily basis. The Macedonian group were even closer and, as I say, some of us are now working together to organise other YIA projects. If you ever get the chance to do a YIA project, do it! If you don’t get the chance, go to the link above and make the chance!