“In Georgia, older people don’t think much about youth engagement. That’s why we don’t express our ideas or ourselves, we are afraid and we don’t see anyone supporting us. I think this problem makes young people isolated and hidden in society,” says Maia Malania, 21, a member of the EU4Youth Alumni network who runs a project for young people in Chkhorotsku, a village in western Georgia.
For years, Maia wanted to find a way to bring together young people in her region, to create a place where they could get useful information about new opportunities, personal development and commitment so that they could feel they could bring about change in their communities.
“As soon as I heard about this network, I realized that it would be the best opportunity to finally realize my ideas and that with the support of EU4Youth, I could help young people in my region and bring about important changes. says Maia.
The EU4Youth Alumni network brings together former beneficiaries of EU-funded youth programs to put their skills and experience at the service of disadvantaged young people in their community. During the 10-month program, graduates work with an experienced mentor to create and implement their own initiatives on the ground, allowing them to acquire new tools and skills for working with young people.
A motivated young activist, Maia participated in a youth exchange project in Denmark and is also a member of the European Youth Ambassadors Network, which aims to raise awareness of EU cooperation with its Eastern partner countries. As a graduate of EU-funded youth programs, Maia applied and was selected to join the EU4Youth Alumni network, giving her the resources and support to take these experiences to the next level.
Working to overcome local barriers
Maia started by looking for young people who would cooperate with her and get involved in youth activities. “About twenty young people were actively involved from the start. We knew we had to work hard and overcome obstacles to establish a youth center in our village,” she said, adding that her project encountered a number of hurdles along the way.
“At the beginning, it was very difficult to find a suitable space for meetings, so we often had to meet in different places. In addition, none of the facilities were properly equipped, which made it difficult to fully carry out the activities,” she explains.
But there was an even greater challenge: “Residents were not supportive and often openly tried to interfere with our initiatives. We made a big effort to find common interests with the locals, and we worked hard to communicate with them and reassure them to support our initiatives.
From a temporary space to a habit and an institution
But all the efforts paid off. Thanks to Maia’s work, three young people from Chkhorotsku participated in Erasmus+ projects, one in Estonia and two in Germany, while others participated in several projects in Georgia.
At the same time, with the support of the Georgian NGO Helping Hand, they were able to open a library in Chkhorotsku, “a significant impact on the development of our region”, explains Maia.
And the news of its success quickly spread: “At the beginning, about twenty people joined my initiative, and later, when our voice reached other young people, more and more young people from different villages and regions have joined us.
“We now have a youth center in our region,” she adds: “It is growing day by day and inspiring more and more young people to join us and contribute to their development and that of the region. Today, more young people have access to information that will help them develop their skills, find more opportunities and do many useful things in our region.
Slowly they also managed to convince the local community of the importance of youth engagement. “The engagement of young people in the political life of the region has increased, which means that today we can reach out to local government and work with them. One of the greatest achievements of our initiative is that we can now communicate and organize important projects for young people in our region. »
It was also a learning process for Maia: “I discovered that communication is essential and that we can solve any problem if we try to communicate and collaborate,” she says.
And the experience made her want to do even more: “It was my dream to increase youth engagement in my region, and EU4Youth helped me make that dream come true,” says Maia.
“Now I know how to face difficulties, solve problems and encourage the young people around me. There are a lot of people who support me and with these people I want to make bigger and bigger changes in our region and in the development of young people’s lives.