you know at the age of 13-15 you are usually really influenced by your friends and your peers therefore it is very important who you surround yourself with good influences – at the time I thought Progresas was just a very cool thing to be a part of.
Elzbieta, can you tell me a little bit about yourself ?
My name is Elzbieta, I’m 22 years old and I am originally from Lithuania, currently working and living in the Netherlands. For the last three years I’ve been living in The Hague where I completed an International Communication Management study course at The Hague University and now I’m working as an Events Coordinator in the marketing team at a company’s international headquarters in Amsterdam. I have known Egidijus since I was 13 years old when I joined the youth organization Progresas. I was quite young and at the time the youth organization was only accepting people of 14 or above; however, I was really keen to be involved.
Why were you so keen?
At the time I was living in Lithuania, I lived in a very small town, where honestly not a lot of interesting or exiting things for youth were taking place. International youth projects and exchange programmes, various educational, adventurous and entertaining events sounded very existing and somehow different from ordinary events at school… you know at the age of 13-15 you are usually really influenced by your friends and your peers therefore it is very important who you surround yourself with good influences – at the time I thought Progresas was just a very cool thing to be a part of. I was super excited to get involved in this organization. I could see what Egidijus was doing with the youth projects in my town, and it just looked super cool.
How did you find out about the youth project?
Progresas was just somehow different compared to other activities, curriculum or school events. It seemed to give you freedom; it was just such a nice environment, even if you just wanted to hang out with people that were also looking for something different, especially as there was not much happening in a small town like Rietavas. Things like going abroad for youth exchange, volunteering, building playground, organizing and hosting ”Valentine’s day event” (that was such a huge thing back when I was a teen), movie nights, parties, camps, is exactly what you are looking for at that age. It is fun, you learn about new people, new countries, and cultures. Unconsciously you practice your language and many other skills. I have met some of my best friends when being a member of this organization.
So when you first met Egidijus as a youth worker what did you first think about him?
He was just very easy going and you know Egidijus is not too expressive but I know he’s super cool, considerate and just a really relaxed person. Within one year of me being involved in the organization he just supported me whatever I was up to. I am not sure but I think even if he would sometimes think that it might not work the way I imagined or end up being a failure he would still be motivating, advising and supporting me and other kids for that matter. He has always pushed us to think for ourselves, brainstorm on activities the organization should take on and how it would be executed.
He has always pushed us to think for ourselves
It makes sense, you know, our youth work relationship was based on trust, which is a really easy word, but it’s so hard to establish
What was it specifically that he did to inspire you?
The fact that he gave me freedom and you know even at school, some of the teachers were closed-minded and had quite an old view on lessons, students, school and education in general. I honestly think that many teachers from my high school didn’t even know how to work with young people (not all of them, I have some teachers I looooved).
The relationship I had with Egidijus was distinctly different. He would take time to talk to me (we both talk a lot!). When I felt like I was getting into trouble at school because of raising my opinion too loudly or not really filtering what I was saying to my teachers, being very much straightforward he wouldn’t judge me or forcefully try to give me a life lesson that I didn’t necessarily ask for. He would listen; we would talk and find a solution if needed. He was always super supportive and would understand that sometimes young people should be listened to as well, no matter the hierarchy at high school and no matter the fact that sometimes they are not able to express themselves in the best manner.
Yeah, that tension between formal education and in-formal or non-formal education?
It makes sense, you know, our youth work relationship was based on trust, which is a really easy word, but it’s so hard to establish. I knew I could talk to him about anything really, like if you’re a young person maybe you don’t want to talk to your parents or teachers… you really need that different place to go to and Progresas organization has always been my place with people I like, trust and can do so much interesting stuff with.
Did you feel that Egidijus really cared about you?
I really think so. And I feel kind of shy to talk about this because we have never really had a conversation about it with him. We have never spoken about this but I really do feel like he made me feel like a valued member of the organization and that I could do what it is that I wanted to. He has given me the tools to become a better person, develop my skills and contribute to the well-being of our community. He is an amazing youth worker and now a good friend that I make sure to see every time I am back in Lithuania.
So what is your overall reflection of youth work?
It is not just about providing activities, being creative, even being supportive… it is also about challenging young people, having the ability to recognize different skills young people have and help them develop those, help them with problems they might be having. And if you get a teenager to talk to you about their problems – you are doing a great job! I believe that youth work should be there to say to the young people what is possible, get involved with project ideas or just work alongside adults. Youth workers who are going to work the best are the ones who really love and respect the young people and wider community.
You know all of you youth workers out there are just super duper mega cool people for being involved in youth work and I just think it is amazing that young people have access to it. I am convinced that my exposure to the youth projects and the fact that I was active member of Progresas organization has had a huge influence on my life, my life choices and considerations. I mean look at me now, after all the youth exchanges I felt like I want to be a part of the international community in the future so I moved to The Netherlands where I have studied International Communication Management with people from all around the word. As if that wasn’t enough, first full-time role I have landed right after my graduation was in Events Coordination with an international focus supporting all business partners we have around the world, come on that has to have been inspired by something! I wish everyone would have such a great youth worker, coordinator and role model at age of 13-16 as I was lucky to have!
Youth workers who are going to work the best are the ones who really love and respect the young people and wider community
by Pauline Grace (2016)
Pauline Grace is a youth worker and head of the MA programme youth work at Newman University in Birmingham/UK.
Photos: Portrait © Elžbieta Bertauskaitė