This April I visited Brussels for my fifth and final assembly meeting as the UK Young Ambassador to the European Youth Forum, which I attended alongside Lucia Jones. At this meeting, which brings together around 150 young representatives from across Europe, we usually discuss and pass resolutions on continent-wide issues as well as elect people to represent us on other platforms and advocate for youth rights. At this particular meeting, we discussed a couple of policy papers which essentially did as they say on the tin – one on demanding urgent climate action and the other on better youth representation – though perhaps surprisingly the second one did not pass through this time round for more technical reasons. We also admitted a new organisation, the Junior Chamber of International Europe, to become an Observer member, and were treated to a speech from the Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium on why young people were important and the future (Shock! Gasp!).
However, it now being late May, I have since suffered the excruciating pain of another round of exams, and am struggling now to write beyond the clichés of an essay. Luckily though, the subject which I would love to talk briefly to you about now are clichés – specifically those which are dredged up time and time again within the world of youth advocacy, apparently present across the whole of the continent, and in my opinion deeply dangerous to the future of improving our lives. I have already mentioned one of these clichés – that youth is the future – and at the heart of the statement it is not at all wrong and incredibly true. But claims like this, which also include statements like better rights are the answer to our problems, and that more funding is the solution, though they hold a lot of truth, are unoriginal and a sign of uninspired thinking within our networks. Unfortunately, I’ve seen (and written) ‘social media’ or ‘networking’ or ‘funding’ on a group Flipchart as the solution to our current problems more often than I’ve had hot dinners. It is true that social media is an issue, for example, the European Youth Forum has 144,000 followers on Facebook and rarely musters more than a dozen likes on a post – simply wanting more of what we already have shown to be ineffective is ineffective. Within discussions, these lazy solutions to problems shut down debates at the same place they have for decades. They stop with a cliché, not a point – giving us long-standing soundbites which politicians can regurgitate to us with very little consequences compared to supporting a solid policy position. Therefore, we must really all push to challenge ourselves everyday on not reusing the same jargon for the issues we face as, eventually, it will lose all of its meaning.
In all honesty, I must now tell you, though you may have already gleaned this from the descriptions above, this meeting at times did get a little tedious… albeit with two very significant exceptions. The first was the election of our very own Pegah Moulana, one of the most skilful, committed and engaging young people that currently represents the British Youth Council, who was re-elected to the Advisory Council of Europe to help oversee certain aspects of that organisation including the European Court of Human Rights. In particular, Pegah has these past two years already been working on improving the condition of young refugees and fostering Middle Eastern-European dialogue. Her election this year coincided too with a proposed 100% cut to the youth programme of the council, so now more than ever we need to be sure to support her to hold up the infrastructure of protecting our rights. This is especially important in the context of this being one of the only European institutions which isn’t tied to the European Union. If we can do so, I am certain her work will continue to show that international youth advocacy does generate real-world positive change and can bring people together who otherwise would have been separate.
The other exception was the address made to us by the 23 year-old Yasmine Ouirhrane who was 2019’s Young European of the Year. She told us of the racism she received growing up in rural Italy to an Italian mother and a father who had immigrated to Italy, and also facing discrimination throughout her life as a woman. However, she harnessed the negative energy people had dealt out to her and reshaped it into a passion for creating a fairer and more equal society at a European level. Now living in France, she was instrumental in organising the huge Yo!Fest last year in Strasbourg as well as working with disadvantaged groups in the city year round. Her example is one which we should all seek to emulate as it shows that if you want to improve society at a European level we must change lives at a local level with community projects – not the other way round. It is without a doubt the culmination of all the local projects across Europe which drives forward the positive change in our society – and that the European Youth Forum must always stand to protect the vital funding, and political support, on which many of them depend.
Entering the world of work is hard. You might just be grateful for a position and dismiss the way you are treated in order to gain that golden ticket of a reference and work experience to progress to a graduate or entry level job. The reality is that graduates and school leavers are being offered internships in the UK and abroad that are not only unpaid but devoid in value for the future of that individual. At the British Youth Council, we believe that unpaid internships are ways for employers to reap the benefits of the young creative minds of today, without any cost.
We believe that internships should be required by law to pay the Real Living Wage. This will ensure that interns are able to take advantage of the opportunity to explore their career options without financial stress and the burden of taking on part time or extra work to fund their experiences.
Recently the European Youth Portal published a blog by a young woman who had experienced an internship that degraded her experiences as an educated, competent and enthusiastic employee. She was ‘relegated’ to making coffee for her employers and described her experience as ‘depressing’.
I am saddened that this was the case, as I too have experienced a traumatising internship experience abroad, that not only cost me thousands of pounds but led to a huge loss of confidence and trust in dedicating myself to another program. After landing in the USA (a country I had never been to before) I was informed that the job I had worked so hard to secure my visa for was no longer viable – this was working for a congressman, in one of the oldest and most respected establishments of the American state. To this day I have not received an apology or acknowledgement of the stress that this caused to me, never mind the financial strain this put me under.
Luckily, I have managed to move back with my parents and save up that money that has allowed me to pursue a meaningful and fulfilling opportunity as a paid International Programmes Intern at the British Youth Council. Here, I am able to utilise my experiences as a volunteer in this role as well as my academic knowledge of international relations. I feel valued in my role and have been given responsibilities that will allow me to make a proud impact on the organisation and its support of young people both nationally and internationally.
I hope that this next Parliament recognises the vulnerability of our young workforce in gaining those opportunities, that will set their attitude and outlook on work for life. Our young people need to be educated and protected in order to gain meaningful experiences that will contribute to them realising their potential, and paid a real living wage.