Being a Youth Worker. How did this happen to me?


Young People

Sandra Silva

TIME AND PLACE We're in Portugal. In 2002, in the municipality of my town, where I had been working since 1996, I was entrusted with the role of Youth Worker. Ever since I started working with young people and for young people, I always found it difficult to really express what I was doing. I simply did. I made it happen and I felt it. I felt that I was making a difference. And that "fuelled" me in my life. In my city for 15 years, I opened three youth centres and the team grew. I co-created initiatives with party youth, took part in initiatives by local youth associations, prepared activities like one prepares surprise birthday parties, organised meetings between young people, organisations and political decision-makers, planned volunteering programmes, job fairs, summer camps, always with the desire to do more and better. In 2018 I went to the city of Braga to embrace the city and the young people who have given me some of the best experiences of my life. They proved to me that they are there, that they want to make themselves heard, that they want to participate, that they want to create, that they want to dream, even in these days of uncertainty. A source of energy and daily inspiration. And so it was! We dreamt and realised projects and ideas. Relationships built on laughter and work, sighs of concern and the contagious joy of completing a job well done. Reunions with young people from other places and times lived in other places. 5 years of remarkable international experiences. PEOPLE So far I've had 4 mayors, 5 youth councillors, 14 work colleagues, countless friends from other municipalities, and young people...lots of them. CHALLENGE Over the years, I've finished activities and started new ones. I've died and been reborn over and over again. The road has been paved with mistakes and a lot of learning. And from these learnings, renewals. Along the way I've learnt that it's never about me, I'm just a tool for the young people I meet at a certain point in their lives. But a youth worker's biggest challenge is within their own institution, and mine is in a public institution, with installed powers, fixed ideas from political decision-makers, with almost non-existent budgets and an institution that lacks flexibility and imagination, as well as colleagues who are suspicious of what our work really is. It's about proving that the work we do is important and worthy of respect. Despite everything, I've always managed to juggle young people, politicians and the institution. But it's not easy and agility and lobbying are sometimes necessary. We are jugglers, without juggling balls, but very agile and quick. The show is on! The applause goes to the protagonists, our young people. In the end, you realise why we are Youth Workers.