Guest blog post by Luis Alvarado, President of the European Youth Forum
Innovative, inspiring, youthful. Perhaps not the first words that come to mind when you think of Molenbeek; a neighborhood in Brussels that to most of you reading this, won’t need much introduction. A neighbourhood stigmatised by connections to extreme violence and terrorist attacks in both Paris and Brussels. But after experiencing the drive and ambition of its young residents, these three impressions are exactly what resonate in my mind.
I recently had the opportunity to accompany European Commissioner for Youth, Education, Culture and Sport, Tibor Navracsics, on his visit to Molenbeek. The visit was in the framework of ‘European Dialogues’ – opportunities for the EU elite to connect with citizens on the ground. An excellent example of the European Commission working hand by hand with young people in Europe.
Little did I know beforehand how much I would be swept away by the energy of the place. Funnily enough, Molenbeek has the youngest population in Brussels (with an average age of around 30 years old). On our visit to the D’broej – Centrum West Centre we had the chance to meet local volunteers, young people from different nationalities carrying out their EVS and a whole range of initiatives working to empower the young people of Molenbeek, providing them with a platform to elevate themselves and speak up. Giving them opportunities to have a voice and express what they want from their future.
You might think I’m trying to sell you my script here – but this is the real magic the model of youth organisations and youth work puts on the table. A model that works and has been working for hundreds of years. It’s about solidarity, about not leaving anybody behind, and about being on the ground with those that need it the most. It’s about reducing and fighting inequalities and providing a young person, who has started off with much less than any of us, an opportunity not only to dream but also to access the necessary tools to be, do, love whomever and whatever they want.
During our visit, we met the Fanfakids using music as a way of expressing their dreams and hopes with the aim of reshaping how the world sees their home, Molenbeek. By inspiring themselves and others, their effect multiplies to more and more young people in the neighbourhood – who are becoming the real ambassadors of Molenbeek.
We have extended an invitation for them to raise their voice and share their music at the European Youth Event (EYE) 2018 in Strasbourg with 10,000 people from all over Europe. As the European Youth Forum, we will also be making an organisational effort to burst our own EU bubble – and bring as many of our activities as possible to the neighbourhood. Civil Society Organisations in the international scene have the responsibility to fight such media stigmas with our own resources, as small as our actions might seem.
We see it all over Europe and the world, young people have grown tired of waiting for somebody to give them what is theirs by right. They are standing up, raising their voices, and getting hands on to shape their surroundings. The European Commission and the Member States have an opportunity to create this enabling environment in the new EU Youth Strategy – by innovating something that reaches beyond its own Youth Unit. An opportunity for youth to become a real transversal topic, and coordinate all programs, mechanisms and initiatives as well as every euro that goes to young people from the EU budget to the same strategic goals.
Let’s make sure we don’t screw it up. We clearly see that the big talk in Brussels can have a transformative effect in the Molenbeeks of Europe. I know that the European Commission has joined us in this quest – so I call upon all of you and ask you, international Civil Society leaders, to help us help them in redefining the meaning of Molenbeek – a neighbourhood which has broken its doors wide open, let their youth take control and hopes to #YouthUp.
And to those of you reading this, my question to you is: as small as it may be – what are you doing in your organisations, institutions or volunteering time, outside of your day to day business which could mean a positive point of no return for a young person in your local Molenbeek?
By turning the tables around – Molenbeek passes from being the cradle of terrorism in Europe, to a centre of hope for future generations and an example for the rest of Europe that putting young people at the core is the most powerful medicine and engine for anything our societies may be challenged with. Let’s #YouthUp Molenbeek and #YouthUp Europe!
NB: #YouthUp is a campaign from the European Youth Forum to make political institutions and processes more youth-friendly.Guest contributor