“Young people are incredibly motivated to learn new skills in a non-standard way!”
Pavlo Medina cannot contain his enthusiasm when he talks about the youth education project he has set up in his hometown of Novovolynsk in the Volyn region, near Ukraine’s border with Poland. And he knows what he’s talking about: the 29-year-old EU4Youth alumnus has harnessed all the experience and the skills he gained in an Erasmus+ exchange project, to invest in youth development back home.
Now in full post-industrial decline, Novovolynsk is a small mining town, established in 1950 by the Soviet authorities with the main purpose of extracting coal. More and more young people are leaving the town, looking to escape the region’s depression, but Pavlo stayed behind. He started working with young people in 2015, when he set up ‘New Wings’, the first – and still the only – youth centre in town. The youth centre and its projects have received multiple awards: it was named the Best Local Social Initiative in Ukraine, nominated TOP30UNDER30 by the Kyiv Post newspaper, and received the award of the Cabinet of Ministers ‘For Youth Contribution to Ukraine’.
In 2018-2019, Pavlo went one step further, taking part in an Erasmus + youth mobility project funded by the European Union. The project, ‘Visions for a Future in Coal Regions’, brought together young people from coal mining regions of Germany, Russia and Ukraine.
“The experience I got was especially important for my home region, because right now, due to the deprivation of the mining industry and related economic issues we have a significant outflow of young people to other cities. We explored cases of working with young people in small towns, what projects are being implemented and how they can make industrial mining towns attractive to young people,” Pavlo explains.
“This project was a real impetus for young people from Ukraine, it provided inspiration and empowerment for the development of mining towns in the West and East of the country,” he added.
After it was over, Pavlo and another participant in the exchange decided they wanted to build a robust youth infrastructure in their own town, finding resources so young people could realise their potential without having to move away.
At the end of 2020, they launched an educational project aimed at developing the media skills of young people, and to create a studio where they could create quality Ukrainian-language content.
“It had started with an initiative to create an interactive book review show in response to quarantine restrictions in April 2020, so that young people who don't have the opportunity to pay online subscriptions could get access to interesting, youth friendly and high-quality content,” says Pavlo. But what began with improvised materials produced by three youth enthusiasts received a new impetus when Pavlo Medina joined the EU4Youth Alumni Network last October. The project team grew to 10 people, as well as volunteers, who learned the basics of filming, editing, screenwriting and working on camera.
The EU4Youth Alumni network aims to streamline beneficiaries of EU Mobility programmes in the Eastern partner countries into a unified network. One of its activities is for individual alumni to support local initiatives for disadvantaged youth groups in their communities, which is exactly what Pavlo’s project did.
With the support of the EU4Youth Alumni, Pavlo created a project team and began working on plans to create a fully-fledged studio, with all the necessary equipment to create content and make it available to young people. In parallel, an educational team was set up, which developed the topics and scheduled training seminars with expert speakers, who could share their experiences and recommendations for creating media content for social networks.
After a series of trainings, the young people developed a small project and received funding to purchase the lighting and sound equipment needed for a studio.
“Currently, 20 young people are involved full-time in the EU4Youth Alumni initiative,” says Pavlo. “Everyone chose their own task and skills to develop. The young people have made an agreement with local television to broadcast content created by them free of charge. Learning activities organised within the initiative are usually attended by 20+ people. All activities are conducted offline, in strict accordance with the sanitary recommendations of the Ministry of Health.”
The challenge now is to defend two more small project applications the team has developed since last October. “We have plans to start filming two projects telling stories of young people, and we need to buy additional equipment for the studio,” says Pavlo.
Looking ahead, the team is working hard to create a quality educational programme for young people to further improve their experience. The team of volunteers is also developing a website about the life of young people in the town, due to be released by summer 2021.
Pavlo Medina is keen to extend to others the valuable experience he gained with Erasmus+, and now he is helping others to take advantage of these opportunities: “Young people would very much like to take part in exchanges of this kind, for example, in the format of a camp with the creation of a media product with European youth, create social advertising or even a mini-film and develop their skills in creating quality media content.”
Indeed, one of the main goals of the EU4Youth Alumni network is to provide peer support and guidance for disadvantaged youth groups with the aim to engage them in the available projects under Erasmus+ Youth in Action, European Solidarity Corps and EU4Youth programmes.
“It goes without saying that we inform and promote the opportunities of exchanges and international volunteering and we hope mobilities will soon be possible again,” says Pavlo. If more young people can benefit from the kind of experience that he enjoyed, then his efforts can be multiplied, breathing new life and opportunity into the local community.