This month I have had the chance to take part in the first big event organized by Pi Youth Association after the COVID-19 outbreak. It was the first Conference of Local Youth Associations Network, an event putting together youthworkers from the whole of Turkey (for the reasons of safety, the number of participants was limited to 30 people and that is why the event was organized twice).
Why Local Youth Associations Network?
Compared to Poland, my home country, Turkey is enormously big and diverse, in fact it is somehow a world of its own. It takes days (or at least hours) to ride through it and no matter how much you travel, there is still something left to be discovered. And this amazing place has a population of 83,154,997 people (data as of 2019), of whom nearly 16% are young people aged 15-24. They constitute not only a big share of the society, but also the future of the country, and that is why youthwork is so important in the Turkish context. The Network of of Local Youth Associations is supposed to provide space for exchange of knowledge, best practices, non-formal education working methods and simply to put youthworkers from many youth organizations in the country to meet, work and brainstorm together. And that was the content of the conferences that took place on the first and the second weekend of September. Me and Martyna took part in the first event as technical support and all along taking photos and helping the local volunteers with logistics of the meeting, we could observe the meeting as well as interact with its participants.
But how to… make it happen NOW?
As our reality was turned upside down since March, organizing such a networking event is much trickier than it used to be. During the lockdown, I took part in several events on how can youthwork continue in those strange times. It is not only about energizing and ice-breaking activities that have to be redesigned to respect the social distancing rules, but also about the need to meticulously plan all the logistics so that the participants of the event are not put at risk of contamination. The organizing team at Pi, which included the whole office team and several volunteers of the Pixel Team, stood up to this challenge and did really well. Safety measures (such as providing masks, hand sanitizers and space big enough so that during all the activities the necessary distance is respected) were put in place and the participants could feel at ease and concentrate on the content of activities.
To be completely sincere, it took me a while to grasp the exact meaning of the name of the event – “Arama Konferansı”, that can be directly translated as “search conference”. Which, obviously, doesn’t make it much clearer 😉 A better word to use in this context would be “exploration” or even “research”, as the conference aimed at diving deeper into youthwork in the local context and elaborating a common perception of the meaning of (among others) youth rights, youth policy, youth participation and empowerment of youth. It was a 3-days event. The sessions on the first day included a presentation of Pi Youth Association, our activities and team members (I was doing my best to speak Turkish during presenting myself and although I did not say anything special, I got an applause as the recognition of the effort, which felt really nice ;)). The work of GoFor (Youth Organizations Forum from Ankara), of which Pi Youth Association is a member, and the Municipality of Izmir in the field of youthwork were presented as well. The participants were then introducing their organizations. On the second day, the attendees brainstormed about the future and the meaning of concepts I mentioned before, while the third day focused on the future shape and activities of the Local Youth Associations Network.
Insights of the observer
I would say that I have quite a particular perspective on the event: on the one hand, I was the member of the organization team and was present during the whole event; on the other hand, since I (still, damn it!) have quite limited skills in Turkish, I could not fully commit to all that was going on there – and this is nobody’s fault, it’s just the way it is when the activities are fully in Turkish and I already got used to it. Moreover, I find it useful to have this dual status: this is a great chance for intercultural learning, leaving my comfort zone and striving for being as present as possible, but in the end also accepting that I will not understand everything and feeling included anyway. So, after this explanation, let me present my insights of the event! First of all, I was glad to be able to take part in the first real-life activity after such a long time – so far, all of the meetings were virtual and as many other people, I was already quite tired with the online formula. So it felt great to mingle with the people and feel this specific energizing vibe of a youthwork event 🙂 Secondly, I really enjoyed my main task of being the event photographer. Trying to catch peoples’ emotions (quite challenging with the masks on..) and significant moments of the event was a motivating quest that kept me busy and engaged. Last but not least, the conference was also an opportunity to see some Pi office team members and volunteers that I do not see regularly and spend some time with them, working together.
You might ask yourself if me and Martyna took part in the second conference as well. The answer is we did not – not because we did not want to, but exactly on the same weekend we had planned to visit Kapadokya some time ago, before we were informed about the conferences taking place in September. If you ever saw this place or even some photos, you will for sure understand why we did not cancel the trip… Anyway, even if on the move, we could still be informed about what is going on at the event thanks to being included in a WhatsApp group of the organizing team. We followed the news from each day of the event and could see the photos of the activities and feel the vibe once more, all along enjoying the breathtaking landscapes of one of the most magical places in Turkey.