A young and enthuasistic group from Muurame, a municipality in Central Finland, visited Croatia from 17- 23 October. They participated in a Youth Forum in Zagreb, together with their partners and hosts from the Serbian Democratic Forum (SDF).
The Finnish delegation consisted of six members, aged 16-18 from the Youth Council Myrsky (meaning Storm in English) and their group leader from the Innola Business Centre of Youth. The youth forum in Zagreb was the main event of a two-way, EU-funded youth initiative called “Focus on us!” The forum was a great opportunity to think more about and discuss how young people can make their voices heard and participate in the decision making process, particularly on the municipal level. It was also an opportunity to share experiences and best practices from Finland and Croatia and to discuss youth policy. The visit included a promotional event organized at the Flower Square in Zagreb on Monday, 21 October, which attracted a lot of attention and kept the lively members of Myrsky quite busy answering questions from curious local residents. People were interested in hearing the experiences of the young Finns and what influence they had on decision-makers in Finland. In addition, the Finns learned about the SDF’s activities and models for protecting the rights of national minorities in Croatia.
Youth Council Myrsky is not unique in Finland as there are similar organizations in other municipalities. The first youth councils in Finland were established back in 1995, today, there are approximately 200 active youth councils. The first children’s parliament was established in 2001 in Tampere and today there are approximately 10 of them in Finland. Youth councils and children’s parliaments are not politically oriented. They are organizations that share ideas with city and municipal officials.
During their journey in Croatia, the group had a chance to visit Croatian Parliament, as well as, the Embassy of Finland in Zagreb. They also explored the historic coastal town of Pula situated on the Adriatic Sea and the National Park Plitvice, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Prior to this visit in September 2013, representatives from SDF visited Muurame and Jyväskylä in Finland and had the opportunity to learn more about Finland, best practices in work with young people, the Finnish models for youth councils and protection of national minorities.
When asked about their actual work in the council, the young Finns felt that it was very motivating and interesting although sometimes also rather time-consuming. Next spring there might be some winds of change blowing for these youngsters, as many of them will graduate. Generally the young Finns gave a very good impression of themselves. Therefore, it is no coincidence that we say, the best ambassadors are people themselves.
In 2011, a youth council in Muurame distributed a questionnaire to secondary school students asking for their thoughts on what was important in their community. They received over 300 responses and the great majority answered that their community lacked adequate recreation facilities and activities. Many desired the renovation of a skate park, owned by the municipality, that was in poor condition. Inspired by this idea, a group of young people volunteered and worked enthusiastically to make this dream a reality – they collected donations e.g. by doing volunteer work in local companies, and received support from their parents, local community and businesses. Their drive and determination also made local newspaper headlines, which generated even more donations and public interest. In addition, they also received the support of a well-known Finnish designer known for skate parks worldwide. The end result was positive and gives an example of what can be done when youth are included and empowered.
Myrsky's Blog (in Finnish)
Serbian Democratic Forum (in Croatian)