Preventive youth projects through the use of video & digitalmedia
This booklet is based upon several years of experience with projects that have mainly been targeting youth with ethnic minority backgrounds in the risk zone; however it is open for all youth.
Our society’s ideas about being successful, creates many losers. Particularly in the case of youth from resource-poor backgrounds, this is an unattainable ideal. The lack of education, limited financial standing and continuous devaluation of their abilities, results in these youth being left out in many ways, and perceiving themselves as losers.
The African Cultural Awareness organization, started with preventive youth projects through the use of video, to create a low threshold offer and provide youth with the opportunity to become aware of their creativity and competence.
Since its inception, African Cultural Awareness had over 200 hundred youth involved in projects in different ways at The Old Oslo Activity House (Gamle Oslos Aktivitetshus) and Søndre Holmia Leisure Centre (Søndre Holmia fritidssenter).The Project Manager has also run a similar project at the Riverside Youth Home in the Old Oslo Borough.
We offer a big thanks to the Health and Rehabilitation Foundation for the financial support, to all those who have followed us along the way and met with us and to the youth who have taught us so much. Elvis Chi Nwosu – www.yitv.no
In general, youth that frequent affected urban environments, and the youth”undesirable” behaviour gains a lot of attention periodically.
Unfortunately, this attention is often limited to the political debate. We wish that this could also be more noticeable in the city borough budgets.
Way too many youth find themselves in the risk zone both in terms of substance abuse, violence and criminality.
Almost one third of Norwegian youth do not complete secondary school. There could be several reasons for this, however, regardless of the reasons, this makes the youth more vulnerable, socially speaking.
At the same time, the ideas about what it means to be successful have become increasingly more demanding. To a large extent, it is mainly about having a certain consumer pattern that is supposed to be”successful”. We know that such consumer patterns are not sustainable. Nevertheless, those who that do not live up to the expectations of the consumption that our society creates, often view themselves as losers. This is also applicable to very young persons.
”Empowerment,” ”mobilization of power” are concepts used to translate the English word”Empowerment”. These concepts have been used in many different ways. Here we will only use them as a reminder of one important element in every empowerment which is of course, staging protests.
Finding one’s strength and identity can occur in different ways and settings, through a thousand small protests against the identities one has been subjected to against one’s will, the clichés that limit one’s self-image and future opportunities. Through these small rebellions, one expresses the need for control over decisions and actions. This in turn affects one’s health.
Our preventive projects are not only about attempts at “picking off” what is perceived as poor manners and undesirable tendencies in the youth, even though this is a part of the work. The projects are first and foremost about creating awareness in the youth regarding their strength, being a part defined what is “successful”, develop solidarity and be able to use energy in achieving one’s goals.
To find one’s strength and own identity happens sometimes through thousands of small rebellions against the identities that one has been awarded against one’s will, the clichés that limit one’s self-image and future possibilities. Through these small rebellions, one expresses control over one’s decisions and actions. This in turn affects one´s health.
Starting a video group: Finding strength in mixed groups
Unfortunately, the occurrence of youth groups meeting on the basis of one common characteristic which is out of purely administrative reasons or old habit, is common. These groups are characterized from one perspective. Either they are substance-abusers or Somalis. For the youth, this is perceived as a limitation and actually often as a handicap.
We have an unlimited collection of identities. Some of them will last throughout one’s life, while others could be more transient and alter with time.
Mohammad is a son, brother and nephew, asthmatic and in-love, interested in music and an Oslo boy, school student and skilled at fixing engines, Somalis and left-handed, insecure and confident etc.
To be defined by only one of these characteristics can easily add undesirable and unhealthy limitations about what the individual youth considers about his actual possibilities for the future and therefore weaken his resolve against the unavoidable pressures of life.
As a rule, it is a big advantage to have mixed groups. There is a disadvantage with having groups that exclusively collect people from one and the same ethnic origin, when the goal is inclusion in the Norwegian society.
Obviously, situations can arise whereby one can evaluate what is desirable based on expert evaluations or budget limitations that the group becomes more homogenous. One should however remember that when”substance-abusers” or”Somalis” are joined together by old habit or similar situations, this can be perceived as a handicap or stigmatization. We will not go into why this can be perceived as a handicap – which one for instance, is being a Somali in our society. Unfortunately, the message from the Norwegian society is clear: It is not considered a strength.
In the resilience method, we take a systematic starting point in the youth’s strong traits and that there no advantage in starting with a group of those who have for instance, dropped out of school. When the group’s common characteristic, which is what defines the group, is definitely not the youth’s strong aspect, then it can prove more difficult to focus on the individual’s strong traits.
Normally it is not difficult to get mixed groups, only if one is open for it. Despite the many cliché-like articles in the press, there a very different youth that one encounters in the city space. To have their identity reinforced and organize a daily life that is meaningful, can be experienced as an incredibly heavy strain – also for the ordinary youth. If the group’s activities are attractive enough for vulnerable youth, then the activities will appear attractive to many other youth as well. In other words: If an activity is planned in such a way that it does not attract the current youth, then as a rule, it will be rather hopeless to use for integrating risk-vulnerable youth.
Normally, it is not difficult to get complex groups only if one is open for it….If the group activities are attractive enough for vulnerable youth, then these will normally seem attractive to many other youth as well.
Outreach work can start in environments where more and more new youth are being recruited for the sale of drugs and drug abuse. In some areas where the youth frequent (such as the Eika environment in Oslo), the sale of illegal drugs is almost open – something that also conveys the society’s continued lack of interest.
When we go to where this target group moves, talk to the youth and work actively in relationship and trust-building work, we are contributing to mitigating the catastrophic consequences of the society’s long-lasting lack of interest. In meeting with youth that have left organized activities, it is extremely important to be flexible with the manner in which one organizes the work.
Other channels shall preferably be used as the same time: Other youth workers and youth teams, the local media, posters and flyers set up where the youth travel to.
During the early contact with the youth, one must ensure that one maps various information such as name, mobile telephone number, e-mail address, MSN address, residence, school, relatives and other information that could prove useful in later follow up work. Mobile telephone, SMS and e-mail have become very common forms of communication for the majority of youth and should be used in the work as early as possible.
This information is used to send SMS’s to everyone and remind the youth about the time for attendance, filming and meetings.
The youth´s strong traits shall also be identified. During the group meeting, one must consciously think of identifying areas where the youth should be able to experience coping and developing creative ideas. This work is further developed, possibly in collaboration with parents, relatives, the Child Welfare authorities or others who have responsibility for the youth.
Mobile telephone, SMS and e-mail have become very common forms of communication for the majority of youth and should be used in the work as early as possible.
The Resilience method has its basis in the youth’s participation, creativity and needs.
The word”resiliens” is a Norwegian version of the English word ”resilience”. It has often been defined as the psychological resistance against stress, and against developing psychological problems.
If resilience had only been about the ability to resist, then one might as well have used the Norwegian word ”motstandskraft”. However, this is about more than resistance.
Resilient youth manage crises and other stress in a positive manner, not because they are able to practice resistance, but also because they cancreate solutions to difficult life situations. Happy moments that help them to know and remember that happiness exists, solidarity that will help them and others throughout their lives. Creativity, the ability to create is much more important than one can believe.
Creating a chain of positive reactions, strengthening positive coping experiences and resisting the negative circles are conscious actions in the resilience work. In order to achieve this, the group leaders must be flexible and open to change direction according to the wishes of the youth.
Such experiences can have a great effect on the youth’s personal development and their relationship to the society. This will contribute to a development whereby the youth will gradually become resource persons for all those surrounding them. This is an important development target. We do not focus on the individual’s assumed defects or weaknesses, but on what they can bring of proof to the people around them. This is largely a part of developing the youth’s resilience.
Resilient youth manage crises and other stress in a positive manner not only because they can practice resistance, but also because they create solutions to difficult life situations. Happy moments that help them to know and remember that happiness exists, solidarity that will assist them and others throughout their entire life.
Group work always forms the basis for the entire preventive project.
The importance of developing relationships between the youth where they support and accept each other, offer and receive help cannot be emphasized enough.
It can of course prove challenging both for the project leadership and project associates. How can we succeed in such work if we do not support and accept each other? If we do not know how to offer help and know that sometimes it is more difficult to accept help?
It is stated that there are no perfect project associates and no perfect project managers. There is no final method for this very human problem. However, we must be in a position to pose ourselves the question in an open way: What sort of example do we provide the youth with regard to collaboration in a team and showing mutual support and acceptance?
Video filming: Concrete common purpose
When the group work is organized around video filming as the concrete main activity, many youth are motivated to participate – many more than those interested in film for the sake of filming.
Video has gradually become a part of our daily life in many different levels. The communication over the Internet is developing without any apparent barriers, Youtube and similar international website,”communities” on the Internet, provide more opportunities than ever for one to share audiovisual expression.
The point is to utilize this development and at the same time, show the advantage through the project’s productions of collective efforts over time.
Do not forget that the rapid development of video on the Internet makes it even more important for the youth to learn how to control Internet use such this happens on according to their terms.
The different films are the result of a common goal that the group has set for itself. It is alright to combine with the individual goals of the different youth.
Flexible, clear organization
Focus on availability, flexibility and non-bureaucratic approach. This is a prerequisite for creating an offer which would be of interest to youth that have resigned from organized activity.
Precisely because flexibility is essential to this type of work, the project managers must underscore the clarity in approach and the organization.
Stringent planning is no contrast to flexibility and availability. On the contrary, this is precisely what is necessary in order to allow for great flexibility on a daily basis.
The clearer the prioritization and planning that form the basis, the more likely it is for us to show flexibility and permit spontaneous ideas together.
Should the plans be changed, then this is done providing a clear how and why.
The clearer the priorities and planning that form the basis, the more we can show flexibility and the more likely we can allow ourselves spontaneous ideas.
Engage youth workers with ethnic minority background!
Generally speaking, the project associates must have knowledge and interest for film and theatre or other ways to express oneself through common work. The associates must find it easy to make contact with youth and enjoy their company.
For a project that is mainly targeting ethnic minority youth, it is important to get hold of youth workers with ethnic minority background. They may have more experience based insights into a number of themes than persons with an ethnic Norwegian background.
Should one need associates with ethnic minority background, it is not because they are expected to have exotic knowledge about other cultures. No youth worker, regardless of background, may have in-depth knowledge about the diversity of cultures one meets in the modern world. A Chinese in China or a Somali in Somalia does not have better prerequisites for understanding an Iraqi or a Nigerian youth in Oslo.
This is also not due to language causes, even though being multi-lingual is always an advantage.
Youth workers with experience about migration can have a greater chance of being familiar with the issue of migration and least of all, and the daily experience of having to relate to the often unconscious stereotypes and prejudices.
They are not mono-cultural, that is they have expanded their repertoire and have had greater opportunities to relate to minorities as representatives for the world’s majorities.
The lack of youth workers with ethnic minority background is not due to lack of candidates. Ingrained habits and suspicion has resulted in recruitment of youth workers with ethnic minority background receiving low priority, however, such candidates do exist.
For a project that is mainly targeting ethnic minority youth, it is important to get hold of youth workers with an ethnic minority background.
Use the youth’s expertise
The youth’s expertise should be used systematically where possible.
These could be technical skills: For example, the youth who are interested in editing and graphics work or those that have multi-media talents, could become designers for cover production of DVDs, flyers, posters and other printed matter.
However, the youth competence is very varied. For instance, we know that it is important to facilitate throughout for exploration and play. This also included a way of gaining new skills to express one self and develop one’s relationship to the community. Both youth and adults have varying competence with regard to exploration and play. Use the youth competence where it exists and show that it is appreciated.
Focus on ”linkworkers”
Place conscious efforts on”link workers” – that is youth who know a lot of people and are able to network in a combination of cultural, educational and environmental therapeutic work.
Additionally, the goal for such preventive projects should be that some of the youth in the projects gradually develop to instruct others, take responsibility and work as project associates.
The youth must have obviously developed the necessary skills, accumulated experience and become reasonably confident that the shift in role is challenging but also natural.
In a concrete manner, one can show all the youth that the transition to responsible roles is closer than they think.
At the same time, one experiences that the youth who encourage others, support the community and learn how to resolve conflicts, gain clear rewards in the form of greater independence and hourly pay.
Meetings: Create rituals
It is vital to ensure continuity in the work by fixed meetings.
The meetings should preferably follow the same pattern and each meeting shall be improved upon.
The meetings usually start with a meal. This creates a community feeling in the group. Teenagers are often rather hungry after school hours and have a real need for food in order to concentrate. Experience has shown that is greatly appreciated.
Thereafter, the group watches film recordings taken during the previous meeting. Comments provide a pointer as to whether this is worth building further on.
When the meetings are given fixed forms, and the projects develop small rituals, we ensure that not only continuity with a greater opportunity to follow up on the youth ideas is provided, but also spontaneous approaches. If the work is well planned and the core group is satisfied and familiar with the fixed rituals, then you can show great flexibility without fear of “things falling apart”.
Do spend sometime playing with short recordings and theatre. The time set aside for this is dependent on which tasks are planned for that day.
If the work is well planned and the core group is confident and satisfied with the fixed rituals, then you also display great flexibility without fear of ”things falling apart.”
One important job is to formulate a script or storyboard book regarding different topics one can make a coverage or short film about. The youth will be challenged to come up with proposals.
It is always useful to write down what one intends to film even for the simplest short video.
For instance, the youth would like to go and interview people about a particular topic in order to edit this into a short film. It could not be simpler, though it is advantageous to sit down with the youth and write down the questions one intends to pose. New thoughts appear, the questions are formulated, and the youth will view themselves as more professional interviewers in the short video film. All this is included even though the ”storyboard book” happens to be a few lines. There will be an exercise on reflection and joint reflection in everyday life.
There is always someone who walks around with big dreams about making a film that shall reveal ”all”. Short films with a very modest starting point (asking people on the street what sort of music they prefer…) can lead to an unpretentious, captivating product with a lot of human warmth and that can provide the youth with good training in relating to very different people.
You are allowed to be angry about negative images
The majority of youth with an ethnic minority background have to constantly relate to the negative images of themselves that have been silently accepted or even openly accepted by politicians. The power of media and position make it difficult to contradict and counteract these negative portrayals. This often creates a feeling of powerlessness that often marks the youth’s self-image and ways of functioning.
When the youth feel anger and disappointment over the fundamental injustice that is found in a massive and often unconscious devaluation of them, they will receive support in expressing both anger and disappoint in constructive ways. Therefore the socio-political and social political insight and understanding is important in order to perform this work.
Examples can be taken from situations connected to discrimination and mobbing.
With regard to mobbing in general, one has basically departed from more common explanations such as, ”This boy was mobbed because he is overweight, or this girl was mobbed because she wears glasses.”
However, a significant part of the public discourse regarding ethnic minority youth is still based on the explanation of discrimination from the viewpoint of the discriminated person’s assumed qualities. It explains the mobbing that ethnic minority youth can be exposed to as a result of their assumed qualities.
When the youth feel anger and disappointment over the basic injustice found in a massive, often unconscious devaluation of them, they will receive support to express both anger and disappointment in constructive ways.
Occupy new spaces
As mentioned, it is important with a known meeting place, preferably in close proximity to where the youth usually frequent. One could aim to make the youth more familiar about meeting in other areas.
Youth that usually frequent the city centre must be courageous enough to leave the city space, while those youth that feel more at home in the suburbs, must gain courage to become familiar with other lesser known places in the suburbs and the city centre.
An example: When we arranged a recording at one of the city’s finer hotels, we noticed how the youth behaved cautiously at first and were reserved. After a while, they gained confidence and showed through body language, that they were good enough to be themselves anywhere.
The majority of non-Governmental organizations, least of all youth organizations would respond positively to an enquiry regarding being filmed by a video group during the course of their activities. Be sure to research the local possibilities. Coming to an activity with a video camera in hand gives a feeling of “superiority” even in environments where one does not feel at home. It is also a way to occupy new spaces.
Once the project is started, it is usual to receive requests from organizations that wish to make contact with the youth and possibly recruit them. However, they do not know how to go about this. To respond positively to such requests gives the youth a greater variation in common experiences and expands their horizons. This can give rise to short video films.
Camera training – learn how to be clear
Camera training, that is practicing standing in front of the camera, is also an excellent form of communication training.
Training in the use of camera can lead to many discussions.
What is it that one wishes to communicate, and what is actually being communicated?
What is important to consider when one films friends in a given situation?
What is important when one moves in relation to a camera?
There are obviously no final responses to these questions. However, the actual discussion provides youth with valuable experiences and a better understanding of how they are understood by others and why.
In other words, camera training provides a good starting point for developing social skills. The person who hardly looks at him/herself in the mirror, and starts to dread seeing how silly and ridiculous he/she seems on the screen, will see that the friends do not react in the same manner.
How full of effect it is to stare clearly at the person one is in conversation with. This is also very obvious during these rehearsals. It provides valuable knowledge, most especially when the youth shall apply for employment.
The youth gain an opportunity to use data editing equipment, try lighting and other techniques.
Show the results!
As mentioned, it is important to permit the youth to see themselves in different roles.
This is why one should place a great emphasis on showing the finished products in many different contexts and to make the most out of the viewing, everything in accordance with the context.
This is obviously the core process; however the short films produced are part of an important closing proof of the youth’s common effort over time. Once the first step is taken, everything else becomes more achievable.
Both parents and children must have the opportunity to see the children and youth in unaccustomed roles. In this manner, the positive experiences are anchored and enhanced, the horizon is expanded and the opportunities for the future increase. The youth should invite parents, siblings and friends – people from the neighbourhood to see them in different roles than previously and experience that they have been both creative and productive.
For such film shows, it could be a good idea to examine and book an appropriate hall well in advance. It may take time to get the hall that one desires.
On a daily basis, one should allow the youth to experience new roles without too much fuss. At a particular point in time, we arrange an audition, which is almost a rehearsal and one youth asks: Shall we come suits? It turns out the majority of youth have never owned a suit. Obtaining a suit becomes a game – borrow suits from friends and acquaintances – and we take a group photograph of the youth who are almost unrecognizable. This is obviously not a goal in itself, but it is amusing. The stunt brings a small contribution to erasing some insecurity with some of the youth. The group photograph will be kept!
Aside from the stunts: Youth need to be fussed over at times, at least have someone to believe in him/her. Even with the best intentions in the assistance apparatus, there are still way too many youth who have experienced being addressed as “a case” and “a client”, “a problem youth” or even “a time bomb”.
Therefore one cannot repeat often enough about the youth being so called ”well adjusted” or not. They are still young people with their own resources, talents and abilities with hope for the future. The environment around the youth must have the opportunity to experience this.
Follow up in the daily routine
All too often, one sees a sign of equality between”the need for support” and”problems”. Well functioning families with a surplus for daily routines, offer obvious support to their children in their various projects and daily problems. They would not consider calling their children problem children for this reason.
Adult support is welcome when one is applying for jobs, starting a project, researching about the education opportunities. In order to maintain a continuous, meaningful interaction, it is not sufficient to just refer the youth to the right authority when they do not know what the right authority is, how to relate to this authority, and fear being rejected, or just meeting a blank wall.
Applying for a job, gaining support in relation to court cases and school follow up, in some cases ensuring the necessary health assistance, are an important part of the group work.
High- risk youth often lack adults that can offer this form of follow up. We obviously cannot replace this; however experience shows that even though children do not receive this form of support over time, the fact that they receive unrestrained support to their own projects, ideas or needs is decisive for a positive development. We show youth how to use adults as resource persons in various ways, all the time without it being a bureaucratically defined problem. This has also been a part of building greater trust and stronger relationships between the youth and adults.
It is therefore why we often meet the youth outside the group activity, send e-mails, SMS and call them.
Since many of our youth are in the risk zone, we have close contact with the borough Child Welfare Office. We send messages of concern when we see the need to do so.
It requires courage with adults to examine ourselves and the traits about us and others that create unnecessary barriers. It requires courage from the youth to abandon known behaviour patterns regardless of how unsatisfactory these are, they are known and tried. Abandoning known areas can require courage.
Input over time: Short-term projects can be interesting for many reasons; however it is the input over time that gives the genuine results. Youth need stability, continuity and a certain degree of predictability in order to develop their strong traits.
It is precisely the stability and solidity in the situation that allows for both creativity and ideas. Youth often have good reasons to be sceptical, and the contact shall be developed over time in order to provide them with a solid basis for believing in them.
Hard work and courage: Developing strong traits in the youth is also about hard work and courage. As adults, one requires courage to examine ourselves and see the traits in us that create unnecessary barriers. The youth shall have the courage to abandon known behaviour patterns, regardless of how unsatisfactory these are, since these are known and tried. Abandoning the usual areas can require courage.
That courage must be recognized and respected, is something that cannot be done in passing. On the contrary, this must be carried out with the starting point in a personal relationship that has developed over time.
Profiling: The projects can gain substantially by focusing on public presentations and profiling, first and foremost with regard to the youth’s view of themselves and their possibilities. At the same time, it provides many concrete opportunities that the youth would find useful. However, it also requires courage, both on the part of the youth and the project managers that can be struck by the Law of Jante. Frankness and tolerance is required in all connections.
A rich childhood develops in a varied landscape of benevolent adults: Father and mother, relatives and friends, father and mother’s friends, the relatives’ friends and friends of friends, teachers and neighbours and the neighbour’s nephews.
This is also the case with good youth projects: They have a varied landscape of benevolent adults surrounding them. Profiling will contribute to forming such a landscape around the preventive project.
* Trine Waaktaar og Helen Christie: Styrk sterke sider. En håndbok i resiliensbyggende grupper. ( Kommuneforlaget)
* Anne Inger Helmen Borge: Resiliens, risiko og sunn utvikling. (Gyldendal)
* Trine Waaktaar, Helen. J. Christie, Anne Inger Helmen Borge og Svenn Torgersen: «How can youths`resilience be enhanced? Experiences from a clinical intervention project».
* Elvis Chi Nwosu, Å holde håpet levende Om ungdom, livskraft og mangfold, Tidsskrift for psykisk helsearbeid vol. 2. Nr 3 2005.
* Elvis Chi Nwosu, Ungdom og mestring. Foredrag for Utlendingsdirektoratet, 02.02.05, i VI og DE en håndbok om kommunikasjon på tvers av kulturer. www.imdi.no/mot