Back then, I was very actively involved in the organisation that was opposing the Milosevic regime (overthrown in October 2000) and promoting civic engagement and fair elections. I remember how curious and surprising I found the discussions we had with European colleagues on youth work, non-formal learning, and volunteer management. And how our realities were very different.
During my first international experience I explained to my colleagues from other European countries, that back in 2000, in the office of my organisation, People’s Parliament in South Serbia, the ‘volunteer management’ problem that we had was a we received. We needed to figure out how to tell volunteers who were in the office at that moment. Our office phone had a big sticker reminding the users that it was tapped by the police and not safe for communication.
I don’t think many had even realised how dire the situation in my country was back in the day. On the other hand, I was also quite surprised to discover how much different the reality of youth organisations was in other countries. I knew our country’s situation was worse than others, but I did not realise how big the differences were. I understood that what was normal for me was not normal at all – and we have come a long way since then.
My first organisation – People’s Parliament, is located in Leskovac, in the south of Serbia. If you get into a car and drive for an hour and a half in any direction, you will get to another country. SALTO provides amazing opportunities for organisations, and I regret that we did not really use it before we first discovered it. At the moment, People’s Parliament works with partners all over the world, busy trying to make up for the time lost during the 90s.
When I talk to Erasmus+ applicants, they regularly use the SALTO online resources or attend SALTO partnership-building or other events. When I talk to the European Commission colleagues about support for the Serbian NA, I refer to the knowledge of Erasmus+ gained at SALTO working in a Contact Point. When our NA was hiring external experts outside Serbia we realised many of colleagues from all over Europe knew about Serbian youth and youth work reality through SALTO SEE. In fact, many of the trainers hired by the Serbian NA further developed their competences in SALTO trainings and through experience working with SALTO, especially SALTO SEE. There is an entire ‘SALTO generation’ out there, and this is very helpful in developing youth work and youth policy. If you look at the annual European Commission reports on Serbia’s progress in its EU accession, Erasmus+ and youth issues are always a key positive highlight, and SALTO and people from Serbia and other European countries working together with SALTO SEE played a big role in this. Even though we now have a National Agency, other countries in the region do not, and it is vital that we maintain regional links and support through SALTO in years to come.