Young Kosovars Reach for the Future
High school students take on their generation's challenges to become tomorrow's leaders
We would like to thank our friends at the U.S. Embassy in Kosovo, the U.S. Department of State, and the Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC) for their wonderful partnership on this great project.
Working together, ISC created the slideshow above and the newsletter story below and we use both of them here with their encouragement.
Click here to download our full evaluation report to the U.S. Embassy in Kosovo (11 MB); and please contact us if you'd like us to custom design a youth leadership academy for your population.
Oh, and check out this video produced by some of the Academy participants as a final project.
Click here to learn more about ISC's global change efforts.
On a warm summer day in Prizren, Kosovo, a group of teenagers crowds into the town's central square. One by one, they stand up and speak loudly and passionately about issues that affect them: barriers to education, unemployment, simmering ethnic tension, the desire to emigrate for greater economic opportunity. Children and their mothers stop and listen. Fellow teenagers ask questions, and seniors engage the speakers in conversation. The voice of Kosovo's youth is being heard.
By any measure, Kosovo is one of the youngest countries in the world. Just two years old (and recognized by only a third of all U.N. member states), Kosovo boasts the youngest population in Europeover half of Kosovars are younger than 25. This generation is coming of age in a society that has been ethnically divided, both socially and legally, for decades, and one that provides poor economic prospects for people from all backgrounds. If the fledgling democracy is to survive and thrive, young people will need to stand up and lead the way.
Enter the Kosovo Summer Youth Leadership Academy. Run by Common Ground Consulting in partnership with ISC's Kosovo office, the academy is a unique residential program for high schoolers who are dedicated to improving the lives of their peers in Kosovo. Through experiential learning (such as the "Street Speak" heard in the Prizren town square), open dialogue sessions, workshops, and the development of micro-lending programs, the academy prepares young people to be effective leaders and agents of change.
This last August, the academy held its first weeklong session in the Sharri Mountains for 23 teens selected not only for their commitment to civic engagement, but also for their ethnic and regional diversityethnic Albanians, Ashkali, Bosniaks, Egyptians, Roma, Serbs, and Turks from across the country were represented.
The street speaking event in Prizren square proved to be a culmination of the academy for the teens. "Street speaking made me feel like a leader," one student said. Another remarked that "the public speaking was amazing, a jump in cold water."
"It was amazing," agreed Craig Bowman of Common Ground Consulting. "The activity is always powerful, but with this group, even I was awestruck by how much it seemed to move people. They used the power of their voices to demand change, to bring attention to the issues that affect young people in Kosovo, and they got people thinking. We had little kids and mothers, teenagers, and seniors all stopping, listening, asking questions."
While the Youth Leadership Academy's primary purpose is to help teens develop the passion, skills, and network they need to create lasting change, organizers understood that these need to be cultivated through tangible projects that address immediate concerns.
With that in mind, they had the teens design and plan three micro-grant enterprises that allowed them to put their new leadership skills and inter-ethnic relationships into practice. At the same time, the projects also gave them practical experience in project design, business planning, and budget development. The students created a video documentary that raises awareness about ethnic discrimination; a series of workshops and debatesfocusing on subjects not covered by the school curriculum, including AIDS awareness, basic IT skills and Englishaimed at increasing the performance of primary school students; and a youth conference focused on improving ethnic tensions in Kosovo.
Many reported that a valuable lesson taken from the academy was an understanding of the challenges faced by peers who were not of their own ethnic background. "It made me let go of stereotypes that I had for other nationalities," admitted one participant. "We are now the future mix of Kosovo!" declared another.
As these young people mature along with their new nation, their ability to rise above ethnic frictionand bring others with themwill be crucial to Kosovo's stability and development. And if their experience in the Prizren town square is any indication, Kosovo's people are ready to follow.
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