Podcast transcript:

Rismir Krajišnik is PR and youth worker at the Travnik Youth Education Centre. Many citizens of Travnik urged me to visit and present the centre, because what they have done in this town is so recognisable that people instantly now when the centre is implementing an activity. From the time they were founded, nearly 1,000 volunteers joined their activities, around 400 are active at present, and they meet twice a week, develop, plan and implement various activities. I talked to Rismir about what they did about their plans for the future, as well as about the most painful topic of today – emigration of the youth from BiH.

Rismir Krajišnik:

The Youth Education Centre was established in 1998. We changed the names and donors, we had been the Forum Syd, then we became the Proni Social Education Institute, and in 2007 the organisation transformed into the Youth Education Centre and became independent.

From the time of our foundation, we have worked in three major areas. These are: youth activities, i.e. developmental work with young people, whom we help become responsible, active, conscientious members of their communities, while at the same time they adopt certain knowledge and skills that woul help them to be the first to step forward, state their views and, ultimately, defend them.

Our second area of activity is public advocacy, i.e. active participation in development and implementation of policies and other legal acts aimed at enhancing the quality of life of young people, primarily in Central Bosnia, but also throughout BiH. One example is the Law on Youth of FBiH, in whose drafting and implementation we participated actively. We created youth councils in several municipalities of the Central Bosnia Canton, as well as the Cantonal Youth Council, and then we joined in the establishment of the Federation-level council.

The FBiH Government adopted our initiative to increase the fines for waiters who serve alcoholic beverages to minors. We proposed to increase those fines from 150 KM to 400 KM, so they would take that initiative of ours into account when drafting legal amendments. As part of public advocacy, we cooperate with numerious institutions, mostly in the Central Bosnia Canton. Among others, we work with the Ministry of Interior and the Travnik Police Administration on the „18+“ action in which we urge shops and bars in Travnik and throughout the canton not to serve alcoholic drinks to minors. Then we conduct „mystery shopper“ activities, in which our underage volunteers go and try to buy alcoholic drinks, and I must say that, since 2012, when we conducted this action, they always succeeded. They could always buy alcohol. Some time early this year, in three shops we targeted they were unable to purchase alcoholic drinks, which we consider a great success.

Our third area of focus is education. We organise various types of trainings, seminars, workshops etc. on diverse topics. Our education is mainly informal, i.e. all topics that are not covered in our regular educational process, which has not changed since BiH became independent, we strive to cover through our informal education.

Both last and this year, we organised a university-level course „Leadership and Youth Developmental Work in the Community“ together with the Swedish Jönköping University, in which we train 20 people from various professions. We have a group that includes political party operatives, social workers, teachers, us from youth associations who attend this course to learn how to work with a group of young people and how to empower them, i.e. how we make them youth workers.

How much use is what you do to society?

Teachers and professors who work with the children who attended our activities and who cooperate with us, told us that our children stand out from those not involved in our activities. They are all always first to speak their mind, first to open a debate. All of that, certainly, in a constructive manner, not just for the sake of talking.

I can speak from my own experience, since I was a volunteer here, long time ago, in 2010. YEM brought me something that school never could. I remember my first public speech. A group of people from Zvornik came to visit, they wanted to establish something similar to our association and it fell to me to present the Youth Education Centre to them. At the time, I had been a volunteer for half a year and it was a disaster for me. I made some mistakes. My youth workers were there and they bailed me out. Those 10 minutes of the presentation seemed to me as long as a year and I literally hid behind a corner so no one could see me. And then, in 2012, in my first year at the university, I have to defend my seminar paper before 200 students in the auditorium. I had 5 minutes to present the seminar paper entitled „Systemic Application Software“, which was a topic foreign to me, and I had to struggle to explain those things first to me and then to others. But those 5 minutes went by smoothly. In the end, the lecturer exlaimed „My, if only I could allocate you more time, this was great.“ Now, when I look back, I realise that I defeated my stage fright and fear from public speaking right there, at the YEM.

Experiential learning is the best way to learn. We keep telling our volunteers „Feel free to make mistakes, this here is a safe group, no one will judge you. When you make a mistake here, you will surely never make it again.“

To what extent it the political situation a favorable or unfavorable factor?

Our cooperation with the municipality, with public institutions, even with the cantonal institutions, and in particular with the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Interior, is very good. We are a non-political organisation and we strive to remain so. We do not want to be influences by the political situation and we pass it on to our volunteers.

We have volunteers from schools following the Bosnian curricula and syllabi, i.e. both the curricula and syllabi in Bosnian and in Croatian, and these children, though they are separated in those schools, freely associate here. Here they are best friends, they like to say that this is their second family and that YEM is their second home. This is an achievement here, which we want to support. We will remain non-political. We do not want any party interest affecting us and pulling us in any direction.

What are your plans for the future?

Well, we have just moved to a new building and we intend to expand our activities in the near future. We will now, in addition to all the workshops we have as part of our youth work, also offer education. We will also start a business incubator, i.e. a co-working space. Here young people will be able to develop their business ideas and work with experts on their improvement, and eventually sell them to local entrepreneurs, so we will introduce employment as another area of activity.

Naturally, we will keep working on all those activities which have been proven successful so far.

How can we keep young people in BiH?

As YEM organises foreign language courses, and currently it is popular to go to Germany, we always have most candidates for German language courses on all levels. Often we have the case that people come and ask „How long does the course take?“ When we say, two months, they ask „OK, can I do it more quickly, because I am in a hurry, I want to depart soon?“

This is really a major problem – young people do not see a future in BiH.

We also now have even among secondary school students young people who not only want to study abroad, but they also want to continue their secondary education abroad, e.i. after second grade they wish to enroll into the United World College. They ask us for references as our volunteers, which makes a big difference when applying for that school. That young people are leaving, that is really a major problem for BiH, because, „the young will inherit the world“ is not just a platitude, a pointless stock phrase. We see here, in our children, that they really shall inherit the world and that they will be the future builders of BiH and that they will prop up the values that are now crumbling.

I do not have a recipe how to make them stay, but in any case young people should be encouraged to actively participate in the development of their communities, that, even if 10 doors close in their face, one will certainly open and they will be able to give their contribution, no matter how small. We live here by the proverb „Never think that a small group cannot change the world. That is how it always changed.“