This was a great opportunity for Velos Youth service users to have some first hands-on experience with electronics related materials and skills that Athens ReMakers’s project are the local community experts on. The workshop happened on a relaxed September Friday afternoon and was met with enthusiasm. More to follow!
Velos Youth is a Non-Profit that provides a safer space and a youth service for displaced and disenfranchised young people (aged 16-21).
The service operates as community-minded, grassroots layers of attention to vulnerable youth, which facilitate access to state-run and other established services including protection, asylum, accommodation and education.
Within our space a varied program of activities, centred around wellbeing, social development and learning is offered, fostering feelings of belonging, self-worth and a sense of community.
Both the service and the center are designed as holistic and participatory. Hence, Velos Youth’s mission cannot be reduced to tokens of services and provisions. Velos Youth’s mission coincides with Velos Youth’s experience for the people involved – see below the relevant section.
Our Approach – What We Do
Velos Youth As A Formula
Velos Youth as a project delivers outcomes in the following areas of intervention:
As already implied, a formula in the case of Velos Youth, would only convey that much with regard to what we do. Velos Youth is a place where the overall experience is equally important as are the different pieces, interactions etc. that take place in its framework.
Experience is hard to describe in definite terms – though it is very tangible and concrete to service users, team, visitors and partners. Part of the difficulty stems from the fact that Velos Youth is a “liminal” space: set together in the context of a dual crisis – “Greek” and “Refugee” – addressing people, places, regimes of human life which undergo constantly and swiftly transition. A place of changes, where perplexity and creativity alternate. Yet, we could attempt pointing some aspects of this experience, which will at the same convey more on our apporach:
(a) Structure is discovered, not imposed. Structure, roles, routines, boundaries, organisational markers and symbols are much less prominent and defining the space/service than is perhaps or rather the case in similar projects; the formal aspects of Velos Youth are not imposed to the young person but left for him/her to discover, comprehend, negotiate and eventually respect as a relational affair rather than as an issue of rule compliance. We will take much time in explaining why rules are in place. We also put much effort in counterbalancing this aspect of our service design by practicing rigorous self-monitoring, holding daily evaluation sessions – so that to update the ways our rules and behavior can have an effect on young people, making stringent a priori rules less needed.
(b) A critical distance / a fortuitous proximity. As an effect of (a) as well as our practices of induction and case work, young people perceive Velos Youth as a service at a distance from state and “offiicialdom”, though they are aware we are operating both within institutional, legal etc. boundaries and are in contact with authorities and established actors . Service users in most cases feel safe to express their opinion, their frustration – including frustration towards Velos Youth – and deliberate thoughts, aspirations, plans, both the serious and significant ones, but also the ones they would be otherwise or elsewhere be hesitant to share. it can even be a daydream. It can be a risky plan. We value those moments, and have built a reputation of genuine help that young people reach out for in a time of need.
(c) Emotional safety. Both (a) and (b) converge into an ethos of Velos Youth as a space which can accommodate various aspects of a disenfranchised young person’s life and identity. Yet, young people understand that Velos Youth can do only that much for them, due to its limited capacity and positioning in the grand scheme of services and resources available. Still, our experience bears witness to the somewhat paradoxical fact that service users, simply put, do not get angry or frustrated against Velos Youth or reject it for that reason. They understand that we try our best and that it is worthy trying, even if what one may achieve or aspire to in doing that with Velos Youth can be sometimes small or peripheral – that said, we do help a lot in crucial things! as described above. More to the point: this is a foundational learning process on how an individual relates and regulates his/her behavior in organised contexts and the people in them – an often neglected side of emotional development. Velos Youth in this and many others aspects of its functioning serves as a place of emotional safety, which is not in our case about a hygienic conception of emotions and a restraining order allowing “safe” emotions only. All emotions can be expressed safely in Velos Youth and appropriately responded by individuals and the collective. These are the reasons to which we attribute young people at Velos Youth eventually choose to share their “best selves”, their most bright, loving emotions, in non-tokenistic but authentic ways – and, crucially, why we have a negligible record on incidents of disrespectful behavior or conflict.
Such aspects of Velos Youth contribute to it being a deep learning/personal development experience – which ultimately aims at turning loneliness and exclusion to empowerement and conviviality.
What motivates our approach is our firm perception that from the perspective of young people at the margins – the perspective which is the most relevant and central to their own affairs – needs or rights are not boxes to be ticked but parts of an inseparable whole: their own selfhood developing within relations. See below the section on young
Young people’s needs are complex – this has consquences. Seemingly simple and straightforward conceptions of needs are for the most part imposed, serving other priorities. Only under conditions of deprivation, threat and constant suffering, needs can be meaningfully “prioritized” in simple hierarchies – “first secure/prevent x, then y, then z…). In development and humanitarian work, we do deal with such harsh conditions, hence “prioritising” is both inescapable but also something we have the obligation to reflect upon and challenge. Youth needs, beyond a rather trivial – and at the same time, as implied, often tragic and urgent – sense, are not steps on an hierarchy, but parts of a whole. All needs are significant. All needs belong to human wholes – ultimately, to the form of life we all humans share and give shape to. More to the point, human needs crucially are not about the consumption of resources but about the production of human potential – again, the fact that so often resources are wasted does not mean that human needs are per se the problem.
All needs are significant, and
Needs are productive.
Don’t these principles give away for Velos Youth some tendency to level down human situations, people’s urgencies etc., or (1) and (2) taken together unawareness of the ubiquitous lack of resources for the field, and of its own capacity limitations? Our response would be: how could that even be possible? For anyone with an even remote relation with the field the need for priorities (for instance, with criteria such as vulnerability or risk) or the scarcity of resources (read: funding) are self-evident. They are also for us, to some important extent shaping our praxis. But what comes after those, this is also an issue. Perhaps, the issue. Limitations (or boundaries or frameworks or guidelines) is one thing. What fits inside them is another. Inside the formal properties, that is, and constraints of our/any practice.
What principles like (1) or (2) do signal for us is a commitment to amazing human potential, to those dreams still remote and unaccomplished as the driving force of catering for those things urgent and right in front of us.
In this spirit, Velos Youth is an advocacy project, meant as a contribution to a critical paradigm for both development and youth work:
challenging with our example artificially compartmentalised areas of support
bringing together development/humanitarian aid and integration work
foregrounding relations rather than impersonal structures as the texture of services
fostering agency within community, participation and belonging as parts of a selfhood steering to independence.
persisting on an on-going participatory dialogue with the young people on most issues, fostering a high quality exchange of views, references and perspectives
adhering to high standards with regard to safeguarding and behavioural boundaries for doing no harm and operating according to young people’s best interests.
The overall outcome of our approach is attention: heightened, individual and collective attention to everything and anything that could contribute to young people’s safety, wellbeing and personal development. We are proud of our record with regard to these.
Velos supported a group of young people for participating in the Exarcheia Champions tournament (that took place during several Wednesdays in Spring). Communities, organisations, etc.) played against each other and created a lovely solidarity atmosphere. We even had two teams (with the inspired names Velos 1 and Velos 2)! Velos arranged some practice sessions for the teams to be ready and competitive!