Michail Chatzimimikos from Youth Empowerment Center in Thessaloniki tells Agorayouth what they leant during the pandemic in terms of reaching underprivileged youngsters and why they want to get involved in German-Greek youth exchange.
Agorayouth: Michail, tell us a little bit about Youth Empowerment Center in Thessaloniki. What is your work about?
Michail Chatzimimikos: Youth Empowerment Center is a youth organization actively working with young people between 17 to 26 years old in Thessaloniki. We are mainly reaching young people with fewer opportunities, young people who are dealing with certain social and economical obstacles as well as youngsters with a migrant and/or refugee background. Recently, we have also established contact with a group of Roma youngsters.
Our main aim is to support our youngsters’ active youth participation while facilitating their learning development in thematic fields the formal education field is not covering and only the youth work sector does, for example human rights education or civic education. So our work involves one to one meetings, group work through the implementation of non-formal activities and workshops on various topics of their choice, as well as assistance for developing and implementing their own activities. Those projects are not only restricted in our national reality as we are really active in the field of international youth work through the Erasmus+ programme. At the moment two groups are running their own International Youth Exchange projects and we are excited to support them on implementing them.
Agorayouth: You started with the initiative in terms of solidarity and the so called „refugees crisis“ back in 2015 – how did it come to get engaged more in European youth work?
Michail Chatzimimikos: This situation has led us on actively getting involved in other youth organizations as well as attending several youth projects and youth workers training courses. Through those trainings we have been equipped with a tool set of skills, which enabled us to do the first steps in the area of youth work and international youth work. Those training courses gave us valuable lessons but our direct contact with the youngsters with whom we have worked with so far has taught us much more.
Agorayouth: How do you run the organisation in practice?
Michail Chatzimimikos: At the moment, our team is small and therefore we are running our organization on a voluntary basis. However, our goal in the near future (if Covid-19 permits us) is to secure better funding, which will permit us to get engaged in our organization in a professional/full time basis so that the impact of our activities will get significantly improved.
Agorayouth: You mentioned the pandemic, how did you deal with the situation in the last months? How did you reach your youngsters?
Michail Chatzimimikos: As a lot of other youth organizations in Europe we were deeply influenced by the covid-19 pandemic too. This situation has paused most of our local and international activities. It was and is a very challenging period for us, therefore we use digital media to maintain our connection with our youth groups. Nonetheless, those who are working with underprivileged youngsters already know that access to internet connection and computer devices is a privilege among them.
Therefore, we have tried to become resourceful either by hosting meetings where we kept the necessary distance or by using Messenger discussions in order to support each other during this period. The main learning outcome that we have gained in this time was that the field of youth work will never be as it used to be. It will be further digitalized and we should keep on updating our digital skills in order to successfully work with our youngsters and collaboratively deal with the challenges that the 21st century is bringing to us.
Agorayouth: You haven’t yet participated in German-Greek youth and/or youth workers exchanges. In which projects are you interested? What kind of partners are you looking for?
Michail Chatzimimikos: It is one of our priorities to get involved! This motivation is related to our commitment on promoting intercultural dialogue within our community. Greece and Germany have a very turbulent history, especially during the 20th century and initiatives such as Greek-German exchanges can give the chance to break stereotypes, learn more about different culture and to understand what connects us and not divides us. Also Greek and German youth workers have a lot to learn from each other and can become further aware of good practices and methods for working with their youth groups more meaningfully.
We prefer to get engaged in youth exchange projects that are based on the interests of the youngsters that want to be part of it. This is our main approach, hence youth work should and must be a youth led field. In terms of youth workers exchanges, we are interested in topics related to human rights education and civic education. We are mainly looking for partners that share the same value based approach with us and wish to experience a change in their communities through their youth work praxis.
pictures: Youth Empowerment Center Thessaloniki