Global Youth Work – A Youth Work Practitioners Perspective

This chapter is a personal reflection on my learning during the three year BA (Hons) Youth and Community Development course at De Montfort University. This included involvement in the Enabling Effective Support for Global Youth Work project and a Field Practice placement at Global Education Derby. It documents how Global Youth Work has enhanced my professional skills, improved my understanding of society, and completely changed the way I live my own life.


The misconception of Global Youth Work

Although I had worked in the informal education field for over ten years, I had never before, discovered the term Global Youth Work. In my mind, I imagined it described facilitating youth exchange visits or promoting international communication between different continents and when questioning other practitioners their definition of Global Youth Work, their definitions included “facilitating a project on Fair trade in Fair trade fortnight” and “raising money to help the starving in Africa”. All these actions could be the result of effective Global Youth Work but do not accurately express the valuable educative methodology and process used by Global Youth Workers which defines Global Youth Work at its core. It is this lack of understanding by Professional Youth Workers that hinders the integration of Global Youth Work’s methodology into mainstream informal education practice and therefore holds a perception that it is a stand alone project or requires ‘expert’ practitioners. Both of these myths are incorrect.


The qualities of Good Youth Work

Our role as Youth Workers is to educate young people with the skills required to live a full and balanced life through the principles of Education, Empowerment and Ensuring Equality. It is our duty to expand on the formal education prescribed in the classroom by applying learning practically to everyday activities and challenging young people to engage in activities which encourage not only the intellectual development of the individual but also the social and psychological aspects of their being.


Primarily, our aim is to assist young people with the identification and understanding of their own personal beliefs and values. To work with young people to increase social skills, confidence, courage and self esteem which in turn, creates a firm foundation in which to continue a more focused, challenging and profound learning programme which could result in the young person taking control of their own lives, making well informed decisions about their choices and behaviour and having a positive influence on others. 


It is this process that is used by Global Youth Workers. The DEA (Development Education Association) states that effective Global Youth Work requires three dimensions, “Connect Challenge Change” (1990).


Connect – Youth work always starts with the young person. It is the role of the youth workers to determine where informal education with the young person begins. Without effective rapport and a relationship of honesty, trust, confidentiality and security, the impact of the learning experience will be less effective. Every learning programme relies on the voluntary contribution of the young person and the ability of the worker to guide and support throughout.  


Challenge –Very often young people are not encouraged in the classroom to challenge their learning, leaving them unable to critically analyse information. Therefore; an informal educator has the task of providing young people with information and reasoning from different perspectives regarding issues of citizenship. It is this debate which will create a society of thinkers and see the demise of uninformed democracy.   


Change – It is without a doubt that if the “challenge” process is an effective learning programme, behavioural, psychological or change in attitude will occur. In Global Youth Work, this dimension is sometimes evident by action and in informal education; this process is documented as a Recorded Outcome.


The qualities of Global Youth Work

Global Youth Work methodology relies on practitioners providing a safe environment in which young people can engage in a confidential, non judgemental discussion around issues of interest (OSDE). It focuses its themes around the recognition of society as a global entity and promotes the moral, ethical and green imperatives.


Using the DEA’s methodology of “Connect, Challenge Change”, Global Youth Workers create links between personal experiences and local, national and international events, items or issues.


For example: Finding out where our food is imported from and the influences of our cuisine, or listening to the UK top 40 and identifying the origin of artists and influences of their genre.      


It is this process that encourages young people to understand the connection between themselves and the wider world. It develops an acknowledgement of global citizenship and a rapport with the global society. Young people learn that their choices and behaviour can affect not only them but family members, friends, people they currently know and people they will never know in either positive or negative respects. 


The Qualities of a Good Global Youth Worker

Only a person who has undergone a process of self reflection can facilitate effective youth work. If this has not taken place, a practitioner can not effectively take a young person through this learning journey. It is also paramount that the worker refuses to impose their personal beliefs and values on others. Other essential ingredients required of global youth workers are an understanding of global issues and an ability to critically analyse information.


My learning journey

I call myself a Global Youth Worker yet I very rarely facilitate Global Youth Work projects. In reality, the youth club arena is too busy, loud and active for a calm meaningful group conversation or project. Very often, my clientele would not choose to engage in an after school project requiring more written work and in depth discussion and to be honest, many are themselves dealing with the effects of poverty, finding it difficult to secure employment or dealing with the emotional trauma of family separation and would find it a challenge to think about anyone but themselves. Therefore a Global Youth Work project would be quite difficult to facilitate under these circumstances.


However; this is where I find myself practically implementing Global Youth Work principles into my every day youth work practice. In my opinion; Global Youth Work does not need to be taught as a project based session, but an informal conversation in a group or on a one to one basis will suffice. Global Youth Work, for me, is about starting from and expanding on young people’s perception of their reality.


Recent conversations have included challenging a remark about the amount of immigrants living in the local area. Using the Global Youth Work technique of linking the personal experience to the global reality; I was able to explain the inequalities within our global society and that as global citizens of a one planet we should look after each other.


Another frequent role of the youth worker is ‘conflict negotiator’. In this role, I look at the issue and how it affects the young person on an individual basis, trying to understand how they feel, how they see the situation and how others see the situation. Then I extend the perspective and try to look at the outcomes for different actions and assist the young person to understand how their actions, thoughts or language can affect not only other people but their own life as very often our actions ricochet off other people back to our own lives.


These examples are just as much about global youth work as facilitating campaigns about global warming. It still engages young people in thinking critically about the world around them and enables them to understand their role in the global society and the responsibilities thereof.


Voice of Young People

In organisations, ‘voice of young people’ is looked upon as a specialism. Most voice work is structured with young people’s forums and youth councils providing young people with the environment in which to air their thoughts and opinions but in my own work; I would argue that if using Global Youth Work methodology effectively, young people will have the knowledge, understanding, confidence and ability to actively contribute to their local community. This way, everyone is equipped with the skills for critical thinking and ability to contribute towards community cohesion rather than a few chosen representatives. 


Personal Connect Challenge and Change

My own personal life has changed significantly since undertaking this training course. My degree at De Montfort University has guided me on a journey of self discovery. Youth and Community Work for me was always my destiny as my whole value system was built on equality and fairness. However; university allowed me to challenge this to a whole new level. I have gained a whole network of like-minded individuals who support me in my work. I have also become more conscious of how my actions affect others, including the young people I work with. I appreciate the responsible position that I hold at work and the effect on young people’s lives that I can have, therefore take that responsibility very seriously. I am honoured to have been part of the East Midlands Global Youth Work Project and endeavour to continue delivering quality global youth work with young people in the east midlands, educating other workers in global youth work techniques and in my personal life, caring for my friends, family members and the planet.

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