However, when we prepared the first EVS inclusion training with SALTO colleagues, we very quickly realised that there were many different understandings and perceptions of inclusion. They were not (necessarily) mutually exclusive; there was much complementarity, but there were also a lot of differences. What was needed was to provide a space where the differences could be talked about in an open and frank manner.
SALTO events are a very good place to do this. SALTO brings people together from across different sorts of divides so they can share their approaches, experiences and fears about inclusion. There is no judgement and no criticism in SALTO’s approach to promoting inclusion in Europe – instead there is dialogue, exchange of views and facilitation. This non-judgmental approach is the best way forward.
In the early years, many people wanted SALTO to take a more decisive and central role in the process, and to ‘lead the charge’ on matters of inclusion and diversity, but I was never sure that this was the right call. The main advantage of SALTO is its ‘third quality’; that whilst it represents the idea of Europe, it does not preach the Brussels line. SALTO manages to be both connected to communities and local realities (whilst not representing a single country) and also provide a European vantage point, bringing everyone together. Providing a space for sharing, giving people a space to experiment, and pushing the boundaries of inclusion is very important. Some amazing work has been done with youngsters who are often overlooked or marginalised – like young offenders, young people with disabilities or special needs, young people with drug addictions, etc. Twenty years ago, few people would have thought that these young people could take part in European-level activities. And yet it was tried, and it worked!
I think that this approach brought about a lot of positive change with regards to inclusion, for example in enlargement countries and new EU member states, and I believe SALTO can take credit for some of this. I also feel that there is a more shared understanding in the world of youth, youth work, and volunteering as to what inclusion is.
Inclusion problems are everywhere: in work, housing, politics, social policy, family. This should be a call to arms for the youth sector and civil society at large. It is also an opportunity for SALTO to offer help and advice to whoever needs it. This will not solve all the problems we have, but I know inclusion is a big part of the answer.