Belgium / Germany
As a policy officer for the broad spectrum of non-formal learning and youth work in general and in particular for Training and Cooperation, I was working with many youth workers, trainers, researchers and policy makers within the youth sector all over Europe. I worked on the development of the ‘Quality Youth Work’ strand of the European Youth Strategy, the Youthpass, the European Training Strategy, the Youth Work Agenda and the European Qualifications Framework. Since 2014 when I started, with every little daily step, I tried to infect others with my enthusiasm for non-formal learning and did my best to support SALTO in its quest for the recognition of non-formal learning.
When I was working with colleagues from another Commission directorate to create a first event to mark the conclusion of a long process (based on the 2012 European Council Recommendation on the validation of non-formal and informal learning) I once more could feel that youth work is making a difference. The Recommendation asked EU Member States to put recognition mechanisms in place by 2018. Whilst working on the event, we came to the conclusion that the best format would be a festival – a positive, celebratory frame that would acknowledge all the good work done whilst also allowing everyone to use the approach and methods suitable to their line of work. And of course I wanted to share the success of the Youthpass and the excellent work done by SALTO T&C RC.
I was coordinating the youth work dimension of the festival, and we brought together outstanding examples from EU Member States and neighbouring countries alike. One story was truly highlighting the positive power of formal and social recognition of skills gained through Youth Work. Through the SALTO network we could invite a young person who had just won the Croatian Youthpass award. Enrolling in a psychology degree was incredibly difficult in Croatia due to intense competition. This young woman used Youthpass to stand out in the crowd and impressed the exam board with her skills in assessing and communicating her personal learning. The way the young person shared her story with the over 800 attendees of the EU Validation Festival was moving, as it was her first time abroad and her first time speaking in a foraign language to so many people, without any hesitation.
The entire event was great and left many participants elated by carrying the youthful energy and non-formal approach.
When I left my position at the Commission, my SALTO colleagues wrote a song for me and they performed it together on ukuleles (probably European youth trainers’ most popular music instrument of choice?). Unfortunately I had left my ukulele at home that day, but of course I kept the lyrics and I keep practicing ever since!
Working with youth and non-formal learning requires a lot of creativity and thinking outside the box. This isn’t always easy in the corset of international bureaucratic structures, and it is what distinguishes SALTO from many European institutions. It is this energy and spark that allows SALTO to make the voice of young people heard in many places. The little SALTO ukulele may not change the tune of the big European orchestra, but it’s contribution is much more than to only add a nice sound to it.