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I picked up an old school report the other day, a real journey back in time. My eyes settled on comments from grade 7. The words, ‘below average’ jumped out at me, as did ‘poor concentration’ and, ‘lacks basic numeracy skills’. This commentary spilled over into homelife about why this was so. In the same year I had also scored 14 goals for the school football team and was the boys’ athletics champion and somehow those achievements were not considered. The top goalscorer surely meant excellent on the same scale along with being best in year at running and jumping. At 11 I hadn’t the emotional tools to articulate how unfair this was in my eyes.

The idea of encouraging others to speak out on issues that matter is a long way from this early life experience. Many YouthBanks create a role for a skilled facilitator to build a core leadership team to enable co-leadership roles to be experienced. Once team members realise how to organise small scale events, create their own stories of what happened and reach a broader audience of their peers with their agendas for change, then momentum like this brings its own energy and confidence to the YouthBank team.

In the first phase of the revised YouthBank model: YouthBank, Me, You and Our place, the emphasis is on team building and learning more about the community they are all from.

The facilitators’ attitude and language will powerfully influence their success in early group development processes, shaped largely by their own confidence and belief in the value of young people defining their own agenda for change as a contribution to building their own community. Enabling all YouthBank team members to self-identify as a changemaker, practice empathy and to work in a collaborative way is a powerful statement of intent.

It all has to start with important building blocks to put such an approach in place. One such starting point is to consider prompting low risk answers from each team member on the basis that responses are intended to help them get to know each other better and perhaps find surprising connections. When all YouthBank team members are willing to answer questions such as this the time comes to move to questions that are more revealing, and therefore riskier to answer. In pairs or small groups the prompt might be something like, “Tell the story of a time you had an argument with someone else and what happened.” This subject is relevant to the lives of all YouthBank team members, and they may have a deep desire to speak about it. But it also invites answers that are more revealing. If trust has been built in the room they will welcome the opportunity to talk.

In the coming year YouthBank International is working hard to put in place arrangements where the trusted link between the leadership team of a YouthBank and those facilitating training and learning experiences is enriched. In fact, there is likely to be no shortage of ways of how to creatively strengthen the YouthBank network across borders and beyond that no shortage of ways to affirm the all round contributions of young people’s efforts to make communities safer, dynamic places to grow up in.

Vernon Ringland

Photo credit: Charles Deluvio, Unsplash


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