Summer is over, a new season has already begun.
It has not been a normal year. War broke out in our neighbouring country, Ukraine, and it changed everything. If you haven’t been following the updates regarding our Ukraine emergency relief efforts, you can read all about it on our blog, Re: Ukraine
While this has kept us busy, we have also continued carrying out all the regular activities and projects that are central to Polylogos’ mission: to bridge divides, promote transformative leadership, and strengthen the democratic culture and capacity, in Romania and more widely. One of the most extensive and exciting activities so far this year has been the launch of ASPYRE: Actions for Supporting the Participation of Youth through Relevant Education.
Trust in political leaders and democratic institutions in Romania is very low (6-15%), and so is participation of young people in democratic activities, such as voting. In some regions, one of which is the target for this project, the participation of young people in the last parliamentary election was as low as 6%. We don’t agree that young people simply “don’t care”, but rather, we believe that the inaction is caused by lack of education, mentorship and good role models in the political and civic arenas.
ASPYRE addresses this challenge by equipping youth, and those working closely with youth (teachers, educators and youth workers), with practical skills, tools and know-how, so that they can become active and equal participants in the democratic society. Empowering teachers to embrace their role as mentors is a key step in our strategy to achieve this goal. If you follow us on social media, you will have seen that we just completed a two-day training with 25 teachers, educators and youth workers from two regions in Romania: Cluj and Neamț. Based on the feedback and the outcomes, we are proud to tell you that the event was a great success, and that each and every single one of them will continue playing an active role in this project moving forward. You can learn more about the project by checking out the project website, and by following @project.aspyre on Facebook and IG.
Another big thing we did this summer was SALT – an initiative for peace and reconciliation with a geographical focus on East- and South-Eastern Europe. SALT – Sustainable Actions for Leadership and Truth – is both a metaphor and an acronym.
Everywhere we went, whether we were serving food in a cantina or facilitating a conversation about hospitality or hate, we were met with stories of trauma.
Under SALT, we spent two weeks in July arranging meetings with front-liners in the emergency response work in Romania and Moldova, as well as Ukrainians in all these various places. During the first week, the meetings were held in Cluj and other towns across Romania, including the border town of Sighetu Marmatiei, and Sighisoara. In the second week, we travelled further to visit communities in Ukraine (Chernivtsi) and Moldova (Chisinau). Everywhere we went, whether we were serving food in a cantina or facilitating a conversation about hospitality or hate, we were met with stories of trauma.
A couple of things were clear to us: (1) Front-line workers and community leaders are burnt out and exhausted, and they need spaces where they can share their experiences, process what is happening, and find support. (2) Ukrainians, whether they fled from an active war-zone or were never personally under attack, are all traumatised and carrying a lot of pain. They too need safe spaces where they are seen and heard, where they can process what that they’re going through, and where they can find a community of friends who will embrace them.
The week after SALT was finalised, we travelled to ROM – Renewing Our Minds – in Trebinje in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Spending time with 50 people from across the world, mostly young people from the Balkans, was a great reminder of the importance of mentorship and the value of diversity. Being part of the team, facilitating small group discussions, sharing from our own knowledge and perspectives, and learning from others, was, as always, an incredibly rich, challenging and wondrous experience. We’re thankful to ROM – Renewing Our Minds – for inviting us back this year as team and speakers.
In the coming weeks and months, our schedule is full of events, travels and activities. The first one coming up is the ASPYRE Active Youth Forum – bringing together a hundred people from all over the two regions of Cluj and Neamț, including the teachers who were part of the training this past weekend. The participants of this three days event will be primarily youth between the ages of 16 to 24. Through training and mentorship, the youth will form small groups that will develop their own advocacy strategies on the topics that are important to them, strategies that they will be implementing over the coming months. The dates for the Active Youth Forum are soon to be set, so stay tuned for the announcement.
War is still being waged on our neighbours in the East, the threat of democratic decline is building, and we are facing numerous crises on all sides. With all of this devastation going on, we hope that our little update will be a reminder that good things are happening too. Young people are finding their voices, getting involved and making real and positive changes in their communities. Groups who were divided are listening to each other, coming towards one another and finding common ground. In the middle of a corrupt world, there are leaders who dare to lead with integrity and purpose. By shedding light on some of the beautiful things that are happening around us, we hope that you too will find the courage to do good today, however small or big that might seem. Because, as in the words of Ronald J. Sider, “no one can do everything, but everyone can do something…” and if we all do something, we can change the world.