Volunteering with unemployed young people
Marttinen Youth Centre develops international youth activities in the region of Pirkanmaa. For Marttinen, it is important to offer international learning experiences and opportunities especially to those young people who may not get them otherwise - for example through educational institutions or hobby activities. Most of the international projects financed by the youth center's Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps programs focus, for example, on cooperation with youth work organisations working with unemployed young people.
In May 2022 Marttinen hosted a study visit funded by the Finnish National Agency of Education (EDUFI) bringing 22 Finnish, Norwegian and Danish youth work colleagues together in order to further explore which opportunities and cooperation could the European funding programmes, in particular the European Solidarity Corps volunteering, offer for unemployed young people. During the program participants visited organisations working with unemployed young people in public services, third sector and other projects in the region of Pirkanmaa, Finland, who are using the European Solidarity Corps and Erasmus+ programmes to benefit their target groups.
“There’s motivation from the young people, and money from the EU - Why aren’t we doing more of this?”
The study visit group started with participants shared ’experience: When young people are asked if they have ever dreamed of traveling beyond their home country, the answer - regardless of their background - is almost always "YES". Yet seizing that opportunity is easier for some than others. The pathway to international experience can be blocked but of the young person's place of residence, life situation, capabilities, self-belief or lack of opportunities and knowledge - and sometimes even structures. In our line work we know that the “inner barriers” of young people are possible to overcome. Yet the group discussions described that by far the most difficult barrier to overcome is the structures unemployed young people are in. Although there’s a good few organisations, who want to provide international opportunities for unemployed young people and see the benefits of it, they feel often quite alone in trying to navigate the web of rigid national legislation and regulations in relation to the social welfare systems together with the motivated young person. For this reason alone, the study visit - bringing such organisations together to network and offer peer-support - worked wonders!
Although sometimes feeling alone with the subject in their local setting, together the group had an extensive shared experience of the benefits of such international opportunities. Internationality has proven to be a great way to offer "something completely new" to young people who need it. Furthermore, international volunteering is particularly well suited to those young people who have no plans at all or whose life has come to a standstill. The results have been amazing. Breaking negative cycles, gaining perspective on one's own life, learning to manage on one's own, and often finding a new path to follow. This, of course as an addition to all the other know-how that one can gain through travelling and encountering new cultures and people. And better yet, in addition the projects have provided additional resources for local activities and - most importantly - opportunities where there were none before.
What we need is…
The study visit provided an opportunity for youth workers to come together to discuss and overcome the barriers for taking better advantage of the European funding programs when working with unemployed young people. Although a lot of practical and quality issues were discussed, and some examples explored that helped us to improve our own practices, there still help needed. A clear message was said in the final reflections of the study visit week, expressing the need for youth work, employment offices and the National agencies to come together, not only on local level, but also on national level to figure out how and with what terms can unemployed young people take part easily to the Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps activities.
Through such cooperation, we need models in which opportunities are not only offered directly to young people, but also networks and cooperation are built to bring internationality to the structures where unemployed young people are. Instead of individual professionals motivated to be international, a more sustainable foundation is to be built in Nordic countries (and in Europe) to have opportunities that reach all young people in the long run. We need to strive to act as an enabler and provider of suitable steps, no matter where the path to international experiences starts. The threshold to go and experience a new side of Europe is still often too high, and the cooperation on local, regional and national levels should aim to lower this. As said in the final reflection of the study visit: “Volunteer work is beneficial for all of Europe! We should make sure ALL the young people could benefit from it too!”
Marttinen is one of the nine centres supported by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture.