By Mohammed Dhalech
I want to use this short piece, not to highlight one perspective over another, but to raise some questions and initiate a discussion on youth work and young people and I hope to engage both young people, first and foremost, and professionals in the field of youth work.
Youth work is happening across the country in all communities, in all its forms, in different settings and contexts, and many initiatives and projects have been written about and explored in many different places. I want to briefly explore three areas of youth work I have been involved in from my own beginnings as a young person and my own career in youth work.
During my involvement with international youth work, I have seen limited participation in mainstream international youth structures and programmes by young people (from the Muslim Community) from the UK, be they youth exchanges, seminars, training courses or a range of other activities. Why are young people not involved in Commonwealth and European (both Council of Europe and the European Union) youth programmes? A number of groups and individuals have, but these are limited to a handful. These programmes have allowed many young people, including myself, over the last 30 years to experience youth work in a different environment and context, and have allowed me to continue to enjoy the challenges of working internationally, such as in places like Albania, developing youth work and structures.
Another area I have been committed to is the outdoors and the residential experience. As someone who first experienced visiting, walking, climbing, and had the opportunity to work and live in the countryside in the early 80s, I use residential experiences as part of my youth work practice. I have always been keen to promote visits to the outdoors in a residential setting, programmes developed within a youth work context, and facilitated with and by young people. I have viewed this as an important tool for personal, social and spiritual development in youth work, in a safe environment where personal growth can take place. So, why are groups not using opportunities to support the development of young people, using both the outdoor and residential environment, which provide an excellent opportunity for development and growth of individuals?
Finally I want to explore inter-generational work. Many initiatives in recent years have been focused on young people, mothers and women, elders, religious leaders, and so on – but what about crossing these over and creating inter-generational work across all these groups? AMR has been involved in inter-generational work, which it has been doing for almost 16 years. The work involves taking communities and families to the countryside in a residential environment, where issues of identity, parent-child relations, Islamophobia, community development, policing, amongst a range of other issues, are explored through discussion and activities (outdoor) designed to build skill, trust and interdependence.
A young university student stressed, “working with young people through and with their families and communities is a key to successful outcomes”. The children who attended about 15 years ago are now young adults organising the events and are engaged in public roles in wider society. By implication, it can be argued that for success to be achieved with young people the community and family context was crucial, as it facilitated bonding and communication, recognising that there was a long-term process and investment in young people over a number of years that was required. So, why are we as a community not encouraging more inter-generational work?
For me these areas reflect some of my experiences in youth work and which I have chosen to continue to practice. I have been fortunate to have experienced different types of youth work and in different regions. It is in these are areas that I would like to see more engagement.
It is important for all to engage in a discussion on the three areas, International youth work, Outdoors and Residential youth work and Intergenerational work, within a mainstream youth work context, and we need to see how, as a British Muslim Community, we can actively engage and contribute in the many programmes that are available.
For young people in the Muslim community, how do we collectively overcome some of the challenges and barriers, either actual or perceived, and encourage participation by young people in the next decade in the wider arena of mainstream youth work – locally, regionally, nationally and internationally?
Let us collectively explore these issues and the solutions for the future.
© midhal 2009
Mohammed Dhalech is currently employed by The Centre for Local Policy Studies (Edge Hill University) as Partnership Associate. Mohammed’s experience in youth work began in Gloucestershire. He has worked with the Youth Directorate of the Council of Europe as a Trainer and is a Community Champion with MOSAIC encouraging Ethnic Minorities to the National Parks. He is also Chair of AMR.
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