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Opinion - Optimising youth work

2023-03-17  Reverend Jan Scholtz

Opinion - Optimising youth work

Having been an active youth leader in my younger days, I speak from practical experience as to the impact and need for active and dynamic youth participation in youth work and development.  Base on that I am writing this article to show the importance of the elements of youth work that will make it more effective.

Experiment in method and the spirit of youth work are an ever moving explorations of how we can empower young people to live a full and satisfying life in a world of rapid change.  Many people are at a specifically flexible time of life, but growth and development is open to all.  Youth work aims at helping the individual in his personal growth and adjustment. A central task of youth work is that of identifying the resources to which young people have access and which define their position and offer potential for development.

There is also a need to identify the constraint which accompany the resources. The other side of this cycle is powerlessness and disadvantage. The key to understanding the position of young people is to ask what power do they have to change and develop their own lives? Do young people have an active role? What are their needs and aspirations?

Young people who are ‘in-between’ (childhood to adulthood) stage may well lend their support to a youth culture which they can identify themselves and in which they could satisfy their needs through freedom of expression and extrovert behaviour. The need for adventure and new experience is in juxtaposition with security and order. That part of that very security is the continuing opportunity for young people to explore new ground. What do they mean when they say they are bored? It means they are caught up in a state and repetitive situations, and that they are no longer extending the ‘edges of their experience’.

Young people should be at the peak of their power and freedom in this respect. Yet we meet all too many whose curiosity and sense of adventure seem to have been replaced by apathy, timidity and ennui. Has youth work fed young people’s curiosity or dulled it? Prepared them for independence and exploration? 

Youth work is interdisciplinary in characters. Consequently the main concern of youth service and other specialised agencies should be to complement and support national-regional –international level action.

It has been a tradition of youth work to bring young people together in fairly large numbers – in youth clubs and youth centres which are ‘open to all classes of young people’. There are also formally structured organisation ‘uniformed’ with a performance of procedures programmes, awards and badges.  

But the greatest challenge still is to revitalise existing structures, mobilise young people through various groups, networking of youth groups to create favourable conditions for participation in the promotion of programmes and projects, create innovative strategies to sustain interest in integrates programme, improve capacity building of youth leaders and youth workers, establish small group of dynamic leaders, improve in-service training and recommend refresher courses for youth leaders and youth workers.

The big question that should be raised here is about the method of our work to deliver services.  We use ‘activities’ as a vehicle. The word ‘activity’ in the world of youth work means an identifiable pursuit which may be taught as ‘specialism’ most activities are a series of events.  Experience arises out of events. Lack of events may induce ennui, a surfeit of them may cause confusion. A repetitive cycle of events may bring little challenge and change. There is need to study the different activities and the pattern of interaction and other interpersonal features to which they give rise. Anything that bring success may boost the youngster’s sense of importance but we may meet young people who are unlikely to be good at any of the traditional exploits that are seen as achievements. 

In youth work we are continually neutralising a whole world of experience for young people in by abrogating into ourselves so many functions that might confront them with new situations and the need to cope with outside forces. We must build a clear strategy for building their competence step by step and an unerring policy of not doing anything that they can do for themselves.

How sharp are our power of observation, how objective are we and do we see actually what happens and not what we think should happen? Effective observation is a vital tool of youth work. Our laboratory is around us, wherever young people are to be found. The opportunity for developing work is to be found wherever groups of young people are gathered together in – school, youth organisations, in the community on the street, in pubs and disco.  

In youth work anything we do should be of short duration because we compete with young people’s other interest.  Leaders can make heroes of other people by modelling the way leading by doing, encouraging the heart, care and love. The greatest reward come only from the greatest commitment.

In sum, in his 1970 Reith lectures, ‘Change and Industrial society, ‘Dr A Schon was in no doubt that the youth movement had caused some fundamental changes in modern society.  The adult population is at present finding it difficult to offer wise words of guidance to a new generation who will be coping with a very different and still rapidly changing world. New technologies are having and fundamental impact on accepted modes of life.

There has been a revolution in communication, an invasion of the family living space by television and there has been a spectacular increase in mobility of every kind. The contribution that can be made but its young people is indispensable to a changing society. Excellent programmes offering services must be develop to meet youth guest of the unknown, the romantic, the dream that is challenge by unforeseen realities. Youth is an action force not a target!

*Reverend Jan A Scholtz is the former chairperson of the //Kharas Regional Council and former !Nami#nus constituency councillor and is a holder of Diploma in Theology, B-Theo (SA), a Diploma in Youth Work and Development from the University of Zambia (UNZA), Diploma in Education III (KOK) BA (HED) from UNISA.

2023-03-17  Reverend Jan Scholtz

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