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 !