Helping Young People Find Their Own Voice

Helping Young People Find Their Own Voice

On November 15, 2021

An interview with Ditta Trindade, Chair of the Board of MasterPeace.​

Ditta Trindade is a social entrepreneur, policy developer and educator who has contributed to different organizations around the world. She has worked on themes of youth, global education, volunteering, human rights, intercultural learning, participation and citizenship, gender, conflict transformation, social innovation and e-learning. Apart from being the Chair of the Board of the MasterPeace foundation, she works for GENE as a Global Education Specialist, and has worked for numerous different NGO’s in the past.

You have worked with youth around the world for a long time. Can you introduce your experiences as a youth worker?

I became a youth worker when I was in my teens, in my own community in Slovakia. It was after the fall of communism. I was part of a Jewish minority, which was forbidden under the communist regime, so I did not really know what it meant. I started to discover what it meant to be Jewish, but also what it meant to be Slovak, and if I could be both at the same time. Additionally, I grew up in Algeria before this, so I already had a different childhood than the others in my community, which all resulted in me feeling like I did not truly belong anywhere. And this experience has always accompanied me in my youth work.
When I wasn’t even eighteen, the council of Europe started campaigning against racism, antisemitism, xenophobia and intolerance, and I quickly became active in this on an international level because I spoke multiple languages. This led me to gain more experience, which led me to train other young people and find good ways to discuss difficult topics. I personally was active on different levels of youth work: In academic study, in designing youth policies, and in a more practical sense as a youth trainer. At that time we mainly spent time on topics like intercultural learning and human rights education, but I personally also got very much involved in conflict transformation.
Around 2000 I was living in the Netherlands, and I was spending a lot of time designing innovative, global and virtual educational projects, which were all quite difficult to find funding for. But at a certain moment we did get some pilot funding which helped us create some really impactful courses. From there on I mainly focused on training young people to train others, and on how they could design programmes by themselves, so I became a bit less directly involved.

Do you see a kind of ‘spark’ that has driven you in your work?

It has always been my passion to work with youth. I might not be as directly involved as I was before, but I still take on a lot of assignments on youth work, like writing articles. I reflected on the youth policies in the city of Recife in Brazil for example, and I will probably do an assignment for the UNDP in Albania. So it is still my passion today. And if you ask why it is my passion, that is difficult to say. I believe that young people should have a voice in all the things that concern them. So any policies, any programmes. And this should not just be a tokenistic inclusion, but young people should actually be involved in the making of decisions. But in order for this to happen, they must know how they can comment on guidelines or policies. When it comes to day-to-day racism, intolerance and discrimination, young people need to know how to take a stand for themselves, because nobody can do it for them unfortunately. It is a very powerful thing to know how to do something about policies you don’t agree with, and I think that we need to enable this learning to happen.
If you are looking at the structures of society, then you see that young people are always learning a lot. They are so used to learning that they are like sponges, which makes it easier to raise their consciousness compared to somebody who is already stuck in their own mind, sees the world in a set way, and does not actually want change. This makes working with young people much more rewarding, because you need little to inspire them. And when you invest just a little bit of time, most of them will grow by themselves. You just plant the seed, and in a couple of years you can see the result.

In the trainings I have given, you can see that it impacts most of the young people who join. Often it takes some time and you cannot see direct results for most of the people who join, but even the people that did not look most promising can often later tell that such a training has totally changed the course of their lives, or used it as a source of inspiration in their professional careers. So the impact that we can have is enormous. This makes it a shame that there are often no funding possibilities for new and innovative projects, because the people writing out the funds often like to stick to proven methods until they dry out. I think, however, that a lot of creativity is stimulated through knowing that something is new, which opens the mind for learning from both successes and failures. If you work with young people, you need to be ready to learn from whatever comes out. And it may go wrong. But it may really be just worth the learning of the lesson. If you debrief it in the right light, still young people can take so much from it for their next project or initiative. So this is my spark I think: Helping young people find their own voice.

Would you say that the long-term investment in youth is challenging for our short-term societies?

Of course, but this is also the case for young people themselves. People often want to see immediate results. And you can see this in any generation of young people , when they are quite new and do not yet know the processes. They have to discover that it takes time to have something adopted by a government or institution, with a formal process. It is a totally new world that young people have to discover. This is why I think it is important to have intergenerational dialogues, and why young people should have access to other actors and policy makers. That way they can make more informed decisions about policies that concern them.
Would you say that one of the biggest challenges is focussing on teaching youth how to engage and let their voices be heard?
Yes, I would say so. There are many young people who only see barriers to participation. They think that nobody wants them there, or that there are no good opportunities for them. There are definitely many others who do see opportunities everywhere. But most young people just don’t see these opportunities. So it is important to have a good information system about how to find these kind of opportunities. In Europe we are in general quite privileged on that regard, since we have a lot of good information systems. But in most other places in the world this is non-existent. And how bigger the disparity in terms of income, society, level of education, the different social classes and so on, the harder it is.

So youth information is the first step: How to show the opportunities to young people. Another thing that has been key already in the past for the past fifty years is not looking at young people as a problem, but as an opportunity. This is easy to say, but also hard to consider. Especially when looking at juvenile justice and crime, and issues of security and youth gangs. Sometimes it is hard not to see young people as a problem. But in these cases the young people often did not have a chance or opportunity for something else. They live where they live. So it can be hard to look at young people as a resource in under-privileged communities. This negative thinking is also seen in how people analyze data on young people. Often, research will be about ‘the most underprivileged’, ‘the least employed’ or ‘the most discriminated’. In other words:  It is always about negative facts, instead of opportunity. There should be more data on youth organizations and which methods really work. If ninety percent of young people are not finding opportunities, that might be because they do not know how to find these. And I do think that it would be great if we could help in this process.

Another challenge is that people also tend to forget that when it comes to taking away barriers to participate and standing for a better world is often a volunteer position for young people. They do not get any money for their work, and often there even is an invisible cost attached to participation. Volunteers are expected to sometimes even twenty hours a week to keep up and participate. Often young leaders get dragged into more and more work, because they really want to help and see opportunity everywhere. But this can result in a burnout eventually. Sometimes even travel cannot be funded, or they have to work from their phone because they have no access to good internet or a good laptop. This makes work really hard and stressful.

Let’s continue a bit about your role as the chair of the board of MasterPeace. What makes MasterPeace special for you?

I am really attracted to the fact that MasterPeace is a network that is also a mixture of different philosophies. It does not only work with youth, but with Changemakers. It is not a traditional grant-oriented organization, even though it can be quite successful in that regard. Additionally, it has the potential and aspiration to become a social business that generates some income through activities to invest again into innovation and partnership. This juncture of approaches to social change is not a classical thing. MasterPeace has followed an interesting path: It shows us how art and a single celebrity can start change, but also how this can be taken further: Through education, through dialogue, and through real impact to the communities. Additionally, MasterPeace successfully creates a sense of belonging, which also brings great opportunities for connections and networking on a global level. I would describe MasterPeace as a ‘social franchise’ for many different organizations who can all benefit from a global umbrella that brings them several resources: Knowledge resources, human resources, and also opportunities to get funding. This is something quite unique. I do not think that there are many networks that operate in this way.

“MasterPeace successfully creates a sense of belonging”

Ditta Trindade
How does the board vision the next ten years for MasterPeace?

MasterPeace has always been changing all the time. There are always certain trends that take most attention. When I joined for example, there was a crisis in the Cairo office, and most of us were just concerned with whether MasterPeace could survive the financial repercussions of that situation. It was a really difficult and delicate moment. But slowly MasterPeace managed to stay financially stable and we could even talk about creating reserves. Back in the day, MasterPeace was also more concerned with growing. We wanted more clubs and regions. Later we started to also focus more on creating more partnerships outside of our network of clubs, and finding a good balance between an external and internal focus. This balance is important: How big can MasterPeace grow for example? When does it grow too big for its own sake? We are constantly discussing these questions, because you cannot really know in advance. So we try to imagine different scenarios all the time.
As the chair, I really like facilitating debate in the board meetings, but I also really enjoy the diversity in the board. All board members have really different profiles, and I like the challenge of inspiring them to use their expertise for MasterPeace.
When comparing MasterPeace as a peacebuilding organization to other global actors in that field, we are not recognized as one of the key actors on a global level. At least not in the mainstream. So the question is if we want that to happen. And how would we identify ourselves then? Do we need to have a specific focus like art or social entrepreneurship? Could MasterPeace become a social business that generates resources for its own network through products and services? We are trying to explore all these different paths for MasterPeace. On the other hand, something unimaginable could happen, which could change the direction of the organization in an unpredicted way. But most importantly I think that these decisions are also for the different clubs to make: How do they see MasterPeace? What do they think is the best route to follow? Because eventually the clubs are far more involved on the ground than the board is.

What is your message for the different clubs?

Coming to the celebrations of the tenth anniversary of MasterPeace, I would be delighted to know what the different clubs envision for the coming years. Looking at the past ten years, what they have learned from their successes and their failures, and also looking forward, and imagining the futures that they would like to conquer. Maybe looking into different directions and exploring those. What kind of benefits or positive impacts it could bring to their communities. And I would think it is both time for looking back and looking forward. And I wish that all the diverse communities of MasterPeace would manage to join together their dreams, and strengthen their vision for MasterPeace for the future.

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Podcast 1 – Marian Dragomir: A Journey from Inspiration to Action

Podcast 1 – Marian Dragomir: A Journey from Inspiration to Action

On November 12, 2021

Marian Dragomir is a teacher and the leader of MasterPeace Romania. His path to becoming change maker began in an unlikely way: with liking a t-shirt that could not be purchased. What does liking a t-shirt have to do with founding an NGO and collaborating on education projects with partners around the world? Today on the first ever episode of the MasterPeace Podcast, Marian will map his journey for us.

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Change is Personal

Change is Personal

On November 9, 2021

Meet El Mehdi, who is blazing the trail for a
new generation of leaders
in Morocco.

ElMehdi is one of MasterPeace’s club pioneers in Africa. As a founding member of both MasterPeace Morocco and the African Youth Leadership Summit (AYLS), he has been connecting and inspiring young people on a national and international scale since 2013. He reflects on his journey as a change maker in this inspiring story.

El Mehdi’s journey starts in high school, where he found that he stood out from the general crowd. At an age at which most people start to discover who they are, El Mehdi discovered that he was someone who wanted to help others, he thought differently, he wanted to contribute to the community and help to empower those who needed it. This brought a certain determination that would continue to be a driving force in his actions as he set out to “walk the talk”. He describes himself as someone who has always wanted to move forward and to connect and create while improving his skills to grow as a change maker and continuously thinking on new concepts and listening to new perspectives in his local and international work.

With this mindset, he quickly started doing work that connected people on an international level by organizing international exchange programs, he met Dr. Manu from MasterPeace India Odisha, a meeting that eventually moved El Mehdi to found a MasterPeace club in Morocco. A MasterPeace club was a perfect way for him to express his passion and vision.

This freedom suited him well, as he positively reflects on the events MasterPeace Morocco has organized. Establishing the club brought some initial challenges, like a discussion on the name ‘MasterPeace, the word ‘Master’ is not seen as something positive so that could scare people off. Eventually, all worked out luckily, and soon the club started organizing great training and events. “These events always impacted me very positively. It was great to see many young people open their minds a bit and be inspired to move others and organize their projects or join organizations”. In this regard, El Mehdi considers the whole journey of MasterPeace Morocco to be filled with highlight moments, in which he and his club have directly and indirectly impacted many different people.

There are two programs and events that he does mention for which he is extra proud of: The African Youth Leadership Summit (AYLS), and ACT! (Artists Create Together). The former was started through a collaboration between MasterPeace Morocco and MasterPeace Mauritania and “Aims to gather young people with a different background from all over Africa.” The AYLS is on its fifth edition now, and has already connected many young African leaders throughout the past years. ACT! On the other hand, is an international program in which clubs in 5 different countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Morocco, and the Netherlands) aim to create awareness and desire for change through the creation of art projects with both artist- and public participation. “We had the opportunity to grow our work, methodologies, and partnerships besides impacting and empowering thousands of youth based in marginalized communities.”

Reflecting on his journey, El Mehdi recognizes that he has learned some key lessons from working with MasterPeace. “Looking back, I have learned to be resilient, but also learned that it is always good to start something.” He has experienced that sometimes just starting something can inspire others to do the same. On a personal level, he identifies how all the activities, experiences, and contacts he made through MasterPeace have helped him develop his leadership skills and knowledge. “I already had some knowledge, but MasterPeace has given me the ownership to implement all the passion and ideas that I had. It helped me grow personally and professionally.”

Focus on what you are passionate about.

But El Mehdi also recognizes that leading a club is never easy: there are always challenges that come up. The keys to solving these problems are always there, and a good mindset can help a lot in overcoming challenges. “I do not like to overthink things. If there is a challenge, that means that there is always an opportunity. There are always solutions. Good communication is often the key.” He emphasizes the importance of a good mindset: “There are always ups and downs, but there is also always an opportunity, being determined, patient, and flexible are good tactics. And the goals and vision should always be the point of focus.” Additionally, El Mehdi thinks that it is important to know that you can always ask for help when it is needed since nobody is perfect anyway.

For new, young leaders, El Mehdi has some good advice: “Focus on what you are passionate about.” Since it is a big responsibility, it is most important that you and the people you work with are driven to achieve the goal in mind. “Don’t look for money, but for something you love. Forget about what might happen, but enjoy the journey.” Eventually, it is the people that matter, and even though sometimes funding is important, that does not mean that you should do projects because they can easily be funded. Projects should be done because you have passion for them. So do not linger too much on the what if’s, but focus on the goal and why you are doing what you are doing. And if you succeed and achieve your goals, El Mehdi adds, it is important to also know your place: “Stay humble. Let your success go to your heart, not your head.”

When asked about the future, El Mehdi has some ideas which he would like to see implemented: “I believe maintaining and sustaining the amazing work which has been done all over the globe by all the different clubs is my main desire in the hope to increase the local abilities to engage more talents, and contribute to enhancing our communities.”

However, El Mehdi does state one strong desire for the future: “I hope that one day MasterPeace will be active  in our neighbouring countries of Algeria and Mauritania, as the region is intense and I believe that our clubs, together with MasterPeace Tunisia, will have the power to unite people.” 

Reflecting on the theme of Masterpeace’s 10-year celebrations ‘Colorful Connections’, El Mehdi sees a clear link to what MasterPeace is: “The goals pursued by MasterPeace have always been colorful. Colorful Connections means that MasterPeace clubs always share and help each other where they can. We have seen that in the last ten years: We share in both each other’s joy and sadness, in the good and the bad. We are one big community. When someone needs help, others will always be ready.”

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