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Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Diary of a human rights youth worker - Day 1

Neil Wotherspoon is a Scottish youth worker who successfully applied to the Council of Europe for human rights training. 

 I woke up today and headed down to breakfast for 8h. Lovely! I had some salad, meat and an omelette was made fresh before me.

Official Opening

The session began in the plenary room and it was translated into Albanian and English. Aldo Bumçi (Albanian Minister for Tourism, Culture, Youth and Sport) addressed the meeting and spoke about democracy being part of the new society in Albanian. He made clear that with democracy comes rights and responsibilities and that as citizens, we must involve ourselves in debates about youth work, health, education and other issues. He said that there is a moral crisis due to a movement of values and that this can be seen in former Communist countries and also in countries with debt crises.

 He was positive about the Council of Europe training course and that this was important for sharing ideas with other European organisations. Bumçi, a young man himself, spoke about young people in Albania having access the government and wanted to work to strengthen this practice.

Marco Leidekker, the Head of the Albanian Office of the Council of Europe (CoE), spoke about it being  an all purpose organisation. He told the session that the CoE primarily promotes democracy, human rights and the rule of law, so it was natural that it should have a focus on youth work.

He spoke of the pan-European challenge of young people accessing the labour market and stated clearly that the labour market and society to should be inclusive of young people. He made clear that young people should participate more in the decision-making process and should not just be observers. 

The CoE Albanian Office is working with young people to educate them about democracy to ensure that it becomes natural for future generations of Albanians to vote, stand for elections and take part in democratic processes.

He finished his address by sharing his hope that all those in attendance would build relationships that would benefit the organisations we represent and therefore benefit the young people with whom we work.

We then heard from the United Nations FPA that Albania is the pilot nation of the One United Nations programme and that the new programme cycle will run until 2016 with reproductive health and gender issues being the focus.

At coffee break, I had the opportunity to speak with the Minister (that's me on the right of the photo!) about what his hopes are for the youth sector in Albania. These are very similar to the ones we have in Scotland. He wanted a more structured approach to participation and said that Albania is fortunate to have many younger people in the government. We discussed our cultures and he suggested places of interest in Albania. The Official Representatives left and we continued with the plenary session.

Aims and Objectives

We discussed the purpose of the training course and what our individual contribution will be. We then discussed our fears and expectations which involved moving around the room and placing our written notes onto the wall for everyone to see. 

The exercise showed, once again, that we all had many things in common. We discussed the methodology that will be used and about how we all learn differently and should be respectful of this. We made an agreement to mix with each other and sit beside someone knew at every meal to share experiences and noted that our diversity is our strength. Respect, empathy, openness, trust and a sense of humour were all considered to be important traits of a good working relationship and we agreed we would work to this.


Oh my, what a feast! A four course lunch full of Albanian flavours and foods and this helped with our initial discussions as the women spoke about how there was a lot of food and then men said it was a good amount – many things cross cultures! We discussed volunteering within Albanian culture and that it is viewed by most as a positive activity but that it required a more formal structure including recognition of its value.

Reality in Albania

Everyone was really eager to return to the agenda to discuss the current situation in Albania. In smaller groups we examined a section of the CoE document ‘Youth Policy in Albania’ and I learned a lot about the Albanian Higher Education system. 

My group agreed with the conclusions of the CoE document and I shared suggestions of how the Scottish system of education is monitored and shared experiences of student life in our universities. We gave suggestions to the plenary session about improving student equipment, libraries, student associations and so on. We also felt there should be an independent body that scrutinises educational establishments and makes the findings public to encourage good practices and quality in teaching.

Who is the Youth Worker

Everyone wanted to get to know new people and so we were put into groups in silence with others of the same coloured sticker on our backs. This got our energy levels back up as it was now 16h and we were getting tired. The CoE allowed provided a self-assessment tool to examine what we do well and what we need to improve on as youth workers. It created a good discussion within our small groups.

Time to Reflect

After the plenary session listened to the different roles of each youth worker, we were able to identify what practices we had in common and we agreed to use this to create discussions later in the week. We held our small reflection group to discuss more personally how we felt the course was going and if we were happy with the current arrangements.

Where has the time gone?

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