Youth Center Zagreb
One of the organisations in the field of youth work is Udruga ZAMISLI (The Association IMAGINE) established in 2005 when it started giving support to young people with disabilities. We are providing open youth work since 2007, becoming a member of POYWE in 2014.
Our current project in the field of youth work is called Youth Center Zagreb which brings together 30 partners who are specialized in different fields of youth interest (health, employment and entrepreneurship, mediation, debate, youth participation, art and culture…). The Center is functioning as a platform where young people develop their skills, share their knowledge, get support with implementing their own ideas, get informed and counseled, or just spend their free time.
The project got 2 years of funding from the EU and it’s the first youth center in Zagreb. The entire youth sector in Croatia depends on projects funded by local municipalities, Ministry or the EU and there is no continuous or systematic funding. Most people in Croatia don’t know what youth work is and who youth workers are, which is not surprising since there is no official occupation of a youth worker and no formal education to become one. A part of our job is to raise awareness and recognition of youth work and in fact, we are making good progress, at least within our target group, now counting over 1900 individual visitors since November 2018, when the Center was opened.
A part of our job is to raise awareness and recognition of youth work
With the COVID-19 pandemic, the Center’s premises was closed and the entire concept was changed and moved online – to our web page and social networks (FB, IG).
On 16th of March, the schools were closed, but the measures in Zagreb still allowed places under 100 people to stay open, which meant we had no grounds to close the Center. The five of us still continued coming to our workplace, but we started preparing alternative methods for creating online content. Our partners started canceling their workshops, so we offered them alternatives to record their workshops and lectures, to write articles, offer online counseling and so on. That is how some great videos were made such as: Make your own Beeswax Food Wrap, Perfectionism and Mental Health, French Lessons… Counseling continued via Skype and youth information work on social networks, phone and email.
The measures were getting stricter and we were aware that the Center will be closed soon, so we had some brainstorming sessions about what to offer to young people online during these unpredictable times. We agreed that everyone is overwhelmed with information about Corona, so we decided to have only one post a day comprised of a short statement report of the Headquarters of Civil Protection along with some useful youth friendly instructions for staying healthy. Other posts are about positive topics – online lectures, theatres, courses, museums, concerts… As we explored the possibilities for spending some quality #stayhome free time, we realized that there are so many online options that our task was actually to ensure accuracy and diversity of content, so that all our young users could find something for themselves, just like they did when the Center was open
Working in an NGO usually requires high flexibility, so it wasn’t hard for us to learn new skills such as filming and editing. The good news from our donor was that our online work got approved as our project’s eligible cost and that we don’t necessarily need to reach our goal in number of users that visited the Center due to force majeure. On the 18th of March we got a message that from the following day we had to work from home because all the “non-essential” places would be closed. We felt relieved because we wouldn’t have to use public transport and our loved ones would stay safe. We weren’t worried because our online content was already of high quality and we distributed the tasks among ourselves.
We held our meetings via Whatsapp and Zoom, supported each other and shared knowledge and ideas. Also, we asked the members of our Board to help us out – famous Croatian actors made videos in which they performed poems from their homes. We have named this activity “Coffee with Actors” and it engaged actors from all parts of Croatia. Our other partners record their lectures and workshops or write useful articles, every Friday we create a new quiz and we also have a new column called “Whats up?“. More ideas are being developed so stay tuned!
Coffee with Actors engaged actors from all parts of Croatia
Coordination for Keeping the Dignity of the Croatian NGOs
In the meantime, Croatian Government has adopted different measures to help entrepreneurs, the economy and to save jobs… but the NGOs and our work were left out. The president of The Association IMAGINE, Svjetlana Marijon, decided to start an initiative for keeping the dignity of the Croatian NGOs and she successfully gathered over more than 200 members so far: “Croatian NGOs are also affected by the consequences of the pandemic since the invitations to tenders were canceled. Therefore, we have written to the Premier asking him to consider the NGOs when defining new measures and support.”
We have suggested the following measures:
There are 18 000 people working in Croatian NGOs, and many of them provide social services, caring for the elderly, children, people with disabilities, victims of violence and many others to whom the under-capacitated system is unable to provide help. Many of us are providing psychological support, delivering food and medication, preparing cultural activities as well as empowering individuals so that they could contribute to our society´s growth.
The project Youth Center Zagreb is ending in May 2020 and we can debate about youth work being “essential” but it won’t get us far, as long as people don’t understand what youth work is. Until then, we need to be united and persistent in our demands towards the government. We don’t know what the world will look like in a month or two, but we are hoping that NGOs and youth centers will find their place under the sun in the post-pandemic society. Finally, both the private and public sector can learn from our flexibility and resourcefulness.
by Mateja Kušić (2020)
Mateja Kušić is a programme manager of the Youth Center Zagreb, psychologist and a youth worker, working in the Association IMAGINE since 2017.
Photos: Cover © Alexandra Beweis, hashtag © Elena Koycheva on Unsplash, all other © Udruga Zamisli