27 October, 2014

Learning about Brussels youth work practices

Via an announcement in the NJI newsletter my attention was drawn to a study visit in Brussels mid October.  The focus was on visiting youth projects and organisations  in the metropolitan area and learn about the way they tackle the many issues surrounding young people growing up in a super-diverse big city.  It was the Flemish international youth agency JINT (an NJI counterpart ) that hosted the visit. JINT not only supports young people to experience international exchanges but also inspires youth workers to take steps towards international cooperation.  
After an initiation into the many Brussels complexities of local, regional and national government layers and the funny video Belgium for Dummies, we went on our way to TracĂ© Brussel, our first stop at their “work shop” / “werkwinkel”.  After getting to know the basic facts and figures of the greater Brussels region we learned about the EU initiative of the Youth Guarantee, an ambitious and innovative policy for youth employment targeting a clear result: every young person must get a good labour market opportunity within 4 months. This requires investment but also structural changes in how young people are supported in moving from school to work. Vincent Verrydt briefed us about the  four projects TracĂ© Brussels set up to address youth unemployment issues, namely Jump to work, Company visits, Student jobs and Make IT work  .
Our second visit took us to Anderlecht where Tonuso operates its KLIK project, an alternative educational path  for youngsters aged 12 to 18 years of age for whom there is limited or no school perspective or for whom going to school is difficult for a variety of reasons. In the project youngsters are supported via a special arrangement on a voluntary basis. It kicks off with a common exploration during a so-called round table with all parties concerned (the youngster in question, school, parents, plus sometimes representatives from a neighbourhood centre a.o.). The goal is to find out what would work best to break the negative circle in the given situation. Youngsters are encouraged to find their own interests and work on their individual talents in a specific environment that matches their interests, outside school, in a voluntary work setting . All this is put into place and closely monitored by the KLIK project staff.  If all goes well with the tailor made trajectory for the youngster, there is a final round table in which the “harvest” of the alternative path is presented: a list of talents and competences which can support the youngster on the track back to school (or occasionally to work). Tina Leuyckx told us that the project has brought together a lot of different expertise and is unique in its position in between education and welfare. Annually they support around 100 youngsters.
Our next stop was JES, a youth organisation with a long history that runs in 3 big cities of the Flemish-speaking parts of Belgium: Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent. First we were brought up to speed on the specific challenges of big cities like Brussels with its 180 nationalities and a population of 1,200,000 inhabitants. Similar to Rotterdam, the city grows, rejuvenates and changes colour, with a significant percentage of youngsters leaving secondary school without a diploma, with a high youth unemployment rate and a school system that is not yet sufficiently adjusted to the needs of urban youth. Different however are the language expectations on the side of the employers: multilingual, both French and Dutch in the Brussels metropolitan region, as well as English !
Applying non formal learning methods Jes operates on the crossroads of work, leisure and welfare, for everyone aged between 12 and 30 years of age, for example in their urban laboratory. Liselotte Vanheukelom told us that they provided non formal / informal education and training as well as formal education and training (18 +) for unemployed young people, but also urban adventures, street corner work and participation projects in public space, such as Yota ! In short, the JES DNA is: competences, participation, integrated, innovation, urban. 

screenshot lomap website
This commitment prompted them to develop the Lomap app, the first Flemish smart phone app in youth work. It allows you to go out there and take pictures of things in the neighbourhood you want "to make a statement” about. On the lomap website you can upload the pics, tag them, add comments plus assess them as a success or failure or something in between. The theme can be anything in public space that strikes a youngster as something that needs to be picked up and addressed. As such it opens up a dialogue with policymakers who usually draw up plans behind their office desks instead of out on the streets. An innovative approach to (youth) participation in the big city ! And the good news is that it’s a free tool for anybody to use and share. Another interesting tool they use is C-stick, a digital portfolio (for listing key competences) that is also freely available on www.c-sticks.be in French, English and Dutch. 

After a quick Belgian beer in a self-established youth home called DAR it was time to head back to Brussels Central station to return home. Waiting on the platform I couldn’t anticipate that I would have more than my fair share of (train) time to digest and recap all that I had learned that day: instead of the planned 2.5 hours the train journey lasted more than 4.5 hours .... Still, in retrospect this inspirational visit was more than worth it !

22 September, 2014

New Youth Exchange Opportunity: St'ART

Following up on the findings of research on "Stimulating Youth Entrepreneurship: Barriers and Incentives to Enterprise Start-ups by Young People"  and the 2013 report on the Global State of Youth Entrepreneurship , there is a growing variety of awareness and promotion programmes (in formal as well as non-formal education) facilitating the development of youth entrepreneurship. The driving force behind these initiatives is the strong hope and expectation that the programmes will contribute to the creation of youth employment opportunities by supporting entrepreneurship training specifically geared towards young people. All this against the backdrop of weak economic recovery and escalating youth unemployment.

Becoming an owner of a small enterprise can be an alternative career choice for young people who have an entrepreneurial mindset and also possess the skills, knowledge and confidence to become a successful young start-up.  This is the issue that the upcoming ST’ART youth exchange programme intends to address.

The ST’ART project is a 7 days youth exchange programme to be held in Caltanisetta, Sicily (Italy) next month and will involve 42 young people from a diversity of EU countries, such as Italy, Lithuania, Romania, The Netherlands, Latvia, Bulgaria and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The thematic focus is on traditions in the field of art and culture and thus the programme will entail an exploration of the possibilities to develop entrepreneurial initiatives in this field. The exchange programme will offer a creative space for intercultural dialogue among the participants in order to experiment together how arts education and artistic expression can be effective in empowering young people and engage them in active citizenship around heritage issues.

These are the three major objectives for the youth exchange:
  • To share different experiences and practices in the field of art & culture among young people from different cultural contexts and backgrounds in the EU.
  • To raise awareness among young people of the potential of artistic and cultural traditions as a catalyst for inclusive and sustainable growth.
  • To foster international entrepreneurial initiatives focused on the heritage value of traditions in the field of art and culture.

The project leadership is in the hands of the Italian organisation  PRISM-Promozione Internazionale Sicilia-Mondo, who initiated this exchange week and involved the following partners: Sirvintu Meno Mokykla (LT) , Fundatia ACTIVITY (RO), JASMA (LV), Association "Professional Forum for Education" (BG) , SAM, Republic of Macedonia (MK) and our School of Social Work at Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences (NL).
By joining this initiative we have paved the way for a small delegation of young people from our social work department to participate in this intercultural and international adventure. They will be joined by our staff member Marianne Lindhout who will also take an active part in the programme by leading a number of activities in the programme.

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained there.

23 May, 2014

How to organise stimulating study visits abroad

Recently a blog on the URBACT site gave away the secrets to do just that. From the many European projects that they have run, thematic pole manager Ivan Tosics drew up a blog post to inspire others. Creating opportunities to interact with each other and the hosts, involving all participants, stimulating discussions and initiatives: these are just some of the tips.
Study visits come in all shapes and sizes, with most visits lasting 3 to 5 days and with groups that vary in size from 10 to 15 to 25 people. Many study visits (or study trips or study tours for that matter) amount to a factfinding mission, but it can be so much more than that.
International study visits broaden our horizons, challenge our understanding of ourselves, and help us understand those whose cultures are different from our own. As such they are an invaluable tool in internationalisation. Often visitors prepare themselves by researching the topic of interest in their own country and reviewing their own practice before the actual visit takes place.
Ideally these study visits consist of three components, namely academic, cultural and social exchange. Here are some of the objectives of the majority of study visits: to learn on common themes of interest, to develop mutual understanding, to provide opportunity to reflect and discuss (innovative) practices elsewhere and/or to provide opportunities for networking.
For students' learning the aim is often to compare and to contrast (and sometimes to benchmark). 
A familiar approach to attain these goals is to have site visits to NGOs and other organisations and / or to provide a mixture of expert inputs and discussion.

With the following tips you can take the design and the organisation of a study visit to the next level and provide a positive, enriching and lasting experience.
Here are the 6 "golden nuggets" that are listed in the blog post that was mentioned above:

1. Increase Innovation Potential With Unusual Circumstances
2. Involve Participants In Collective, Playful Actions
3. Organise Dynamic Presentations Of Interesting Practices
4. Ask Partners To Identify Innovative Small Case Practices
5. Make Space For Two-way Knowledge Transfer With The Hosts Of Study Visits
6. Make Room For Micro-consultingask international visitors to act as experts, giving advice on questions of interests to the hosts
Especially, this last tip is definitely an interesting one from an international perspective. For it requires visitors to put themselves in the shoes of the hosts and to relate the topics to the contexts they are familiar with at home. This thinking exercise is bound to produce some incredibly creative ideas that can inspire the hosts to regard the issue at hand in another light and harvest multiple perspectives and solutions from a diverse audience. 

Elsewhere on this blog City as Text was mentioned as an innovative method to uncover and discover urban areas off the beaten track in a surprising manner. The CaT pedagogy emphasizes the strength of experiential or active learning by inviting  participants to "read a city as a text" by having a walkabout through urban districts and debriefing sessions to follow up. This CaT method incorporates a number of these golden nuggets turning a study visit into a successful and stimulating experience. 

20 May, 2014

Speaking of Europe

Adapted from a text by a guest blogger who participated in the YiA training course called Speakers of Europe

Last December Arthur Meenks, Zina Monteiro and Inge Arends participated in a Youth in Action training course that was held in Palermo around the upcoming European elections the following year.

Within the training course we were taught about the rising issues in Europe and the importance of voting. We also received tools to increase the participation of European youth in the upcoming elections in May 2014.

One of our assignments was disseminating the knowledge we gained during the Youth in Action Project.

Last semester one of the subjects within the Cultural Social Work course programme (CMV) was Politics. We decided to take the opportunity to arrange a debate and share our knowledge with our fellow students.

First we gave a presentation on the different parties within the European Parliament. After sharing these basic facts we addressed current issues in Europe and debated on different views and perspectives. This made it easier for students to decide which political point of view they actually have. This was meant to support them to make a decision on how to vote on the 22nd of May.

The last issue we raised during this debate was the question ‘Are you going to vote on the 22nd of May?’ and to our surprise and satisfaction everybody agreed on the importance of voting: mission completed!

The pictures shown here were shot during the training course in Palermo.

As a more permanent outcome of the training course, the team prepared a game-book, which is a free and easy to use tool for anyone wishing to promote European civic responsibility or any other issues regarding voting, participation or citizenship. Anyone wanting to find inspiration, ideas, good practices, practical tools, knowledge, information, motivation, have a look at the final handbook that can be downloaded here.

Feel free to share it as widely as you can, and why not like the corresponding Facebook page to stay in touch with the team !

06 May, 2014

Visiting Copenhagen as a Rotterdam student of social work

Adapted in English from a student’s report

It was a well founded decision for me to go for the option of Copenhagen as my destination for the study trip abroad within the framework of the Global Social Work module. Why ? The care system in Scandinavian countries is running ahead of our Dutch system and by comparing this there is much to be learned.
After a short flight we landed at Copenhagen Kastrup airport and immediately I noticed that on the one hand people looked different and on the other hand that Denmark is a rich country. We smoothly transferred to our base in Copenhagen Downtown Hostel,  a hostel unlike many others, characterized by creative decorations using vivid colours and wood, which enhance its cosy and relaxed atmosphere.
Our first visit was to the municipality of Roskilde. On arriving there, my immediate impression was that Roskilde is much different from Copenhagen, much poorer in fact.
We went there to learn how Danish social workers provide services to problem families and how they work with safety plans, a method that turned out to compare well with the way Youth Care in the Netherlands operates. These social workers take a problem solving attitude and apply a number of methods to empower families to ensure that children can stay in their nuclear families.
The next day Christiania was on the programme, a society within a society that started out as a hippie commune in the seventies of the last century. As soon as I entered the area I noticed the graffiti, the murals, the creative, liberated and relaxing atmosphere. It was very interesting to observe how this community has developed from a social experiment into a small free state, with “a green light district” and with all kinds of different homes, designed by the people themselves. In this community each individual has a role to play in taking care of the area and the wellbeing of the community.
This area is not just for its inhabitants, many others like street people, pensioners, immigrants and clients from social institutions find sanctuary here. Interestingly, Christiania has its own economy that turns out to be profitable as well.
The day after this we went to Kofoedskole, an independent, non-profit humanitarian organization that provides help in the shape of a school where jobless people learn a trade. People using the service at Kofoed's School are called students rather than (service) users or clients. Here all activities are geared towards enhancing self esteem and personal development. Much of this is done by offering all kinds of workshops, varying form car repair shop to learning Spanish. The aim is not just to help the 3000 students but also to support them to take responsibility for their own efforts. In order to increase their ability to act themselves, students working in some of the workshops can use for example the Kofoeddollars they earn to buy items such as food and drinks within the school canteen.
And then we went on to Projekt Udenfor, one of the few outreach organisations based in Copenhagen. Projekt Udenfor  is a private foundation which combines active social street work with training and research in approaches to homelessness and social marginalisation. They carry out practical social work on the street, to help homeless people who for one reason or another have lost contact with the official social security system and/or have lost their personal network and are not supported in any other way. We heard a very inspiring story from a psychiatrist who had now found his calling here in working with the homeless people.
Looking back on all these experiences, I can say that it was a very educational and enjoyable study trip. Both the organisation as well as the programme were very good. We were a highly motivated group of students and the teaching staff that guided us during the trip were pleasant company to be with. We’ve really been able to make good comparisons between Copenhagen and Rotterdam. I’m glad we had this international experience.   
Photo credits go to C. Numan

13 April, 2014

COHEHRE in conference

Having just returned from the international conference of the COHEHRE consortium in Groningen, it's fitting to review the first exploration of a European network that is new to the social work sector.
In the session specifically dedicated to new members and social work delegates, we were told that COHEHRE is an interprofessional consortium of institutes of higher education in health, rehabilitation and social work.It supports professional development of its membership by supporting mobility of students, staff / teachers, by project work and the academy (capacity building), by publishing papers in the Journal of Allied Health and by hosting an annual conference. To this conference that was organised conveniently near in our own country, I had been invited by colleagues from the school of healthcare studies of our Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences. 

These annual conferences are always in line with the designated theme of the European Year, in 2014 being: Reconciling Work and Family Life. A theme, like most themes of the European Years, that sits well with social work professionals, teaching staff and students.
An interesting feature of the annual conference is the international student conference that is organised alongside: a gathering applying the same theme as the staff conference, with students mingling with teaching staff delegates at interspersed moments in the programme and concluding with a final presentation of the students. This is definitely a win - win approach, making both conferences on the one hand efficient and on the other hand more dynamic and enjoyable, allowing for dialogue and co-creation as well.
Looking back on the conference as a whole, it is clear that by far most talks and workshops are in fact linked to the health sector and health education professionals. Only from time to time in workshops and keynotes the social work sector is referred to, although parallels or references would have been easy to point out. 
As the social and health sector are in a process of converging it's not surprising that a network like COHEHRE has decided to spread its wings and attempt to attract social work educators as well. Social workers belong to the family of the helping professions after all. However, for the consortium to be successful in its mission it needs to become distinctly more inclusive in all of its materials, actions and activities. At present,  for delegates of social work programmes Cohehre doesn't provide such an appeal yet, in other words the network still has quite a long way to go, to really connect with social work educators. Simply by clicking on the link of the consortium / network this image comes into view, 

clearly a message that won't speak to the social domain. 

Besides, as the social work sector itself has a variety of good networks and associations, it's not an obvious step for the average social work educator to choose the Cohehre consortium wholeheartedly and prefer it over its own networks of professional associations, faculties of social work and social education for the purpose of professional development or capacity building. With the school of healthcare studies as a very active partner in this network our university is well represented. By effective internal networking I'm convinced our school of social work will manage to keep abreast of innovative interprofessional developments and come a long way in keeping up to speed on the international front. All in all, Cohehre is an interesting network worth keeping an eye on and possibly interesting for the discerning social work educator who has affinity with health matters. Yet, it is not the first nor second choice for a solid European consortium in the social domain, unless cross-sectoral collaboration with the health sector is prioritised at a local level.
On a final, positive note, one area in which Cohehre has recently taken a brilliant social step is to design a kind of facebook for its members: the Cohehrebook, promoted as the social hub of Cohehre. In this they have definitely taken a step beyond many other professional networks, enabling its members (i.e. any interested staff member within a member organisation, such as HR) to give quick updates, create groups around topics of interest, share files and folders easily, keep up the inspiring conversation in the days following conferences etc.
More information about COHEHRE, membership, conferences and more can be found here. And here's the link to Cohehrebook.

01 April, 2014

Now you know ...

Whenever international people come to Rotterdam, one question pops up: is it Holland or is it the Netherlands ? Sometimes this is followed by another question: why are people from the Netherlands called Dutchmen? and what about your language, why Dutch ?
Fortunately, there is a short video explaining all that ... and more.

If this has not settled the confusion nor satisfied your curiosity in things Dutch, Netherlandish, Netherlandic, or Hollands, then look here for a discussion that has been taking place since March 2008 with 132 comments and counting.

27 March, 2014

Spotting differences and similarities between London and Rotterdam

To what extent is the Big Society still a hot issue in London, England ? What are the differences and similarities with the basic ideas addressed in the Dutch Social Support Act (WMO) and the participation society in Rotterdam, Netherlands? And how does all that translate into the way professionals operate in London and Rotterdam? These were some of questions that were the point of departure for 16 master students and 3 lecturers on their international study trip to London.

The annual study trip of the master in Urban Education (MPED) always includes a number of field visits that the students organise among themselves.
This year focused on the children's zone in the White City district and the way this has affected the surrounding neighbourhoods. Another field trip drew attention to the way that the Arsenal brand impacts social life in the immediate surroundings, and yet another visit dealt with the issue of how young people are given a voice in Wandsworth.
Next to the field visits the Rotterdam students attended two lectures and discussed the role and responsibilities of government with London students from London South Bank University.

The week abroad closed down with the Rotterdam students presenting their findings.
On the plane back home everyone could look back on an intensive, enjoyable, surprising and "gezellige" * excursion abroad !

* Even president Obama here in the Netherlands for the Nuclear Summit (March 2014) said in his final speech on departure that the atmosphere of his visit to NL had been truly "gezellig" , an untranslatable word which comes closest to the English term "cosy".