In most areas of the world, young people seem to be participating less actively in society. Youth elites start forming, while the majority of young people feel they are not heard, not understood. That no one cares about them. In these difficult times, youth organizations have a unique position from which they can empower young people to speak up, to reach their potential and become active members in the community. One such organization which can and should work tirelessly with and for young people all around the world is actually one of the oldest and largest: it's the YMCA, a global movement of which I am proud to be part of.
My first contact with YMCA was a few years ago, when I met with Marius from YMCA Europe and Alina, the National General Secretary of YMCA Romania, two of the key people who transformed the Romanian movement and shifted it towards the future. In that meeting we had long discussions about what YMCA is and what are its values and we came to the conclusion that we actually share the same aim. We also discovered the very rich history that YMCA had in Romania especially during the monarchy, when it was founded with the Royal Family's direct support and most of the intellectual elite of the era served on its board. On that day, The Young Initiative Association, the youth organization focusing on empowerment through education which I founded, became an active member of the YMCA Romania Federation.
Many more interactions followed, of which the "Bridges for the future" leadership training course in Kosovo put me in contact for the first time with YMCA young people from around Europe, a vibrant community which transforms and empowers youth in so many countries. Also, my colleagues started to get more involved and passionate about the YMCA work, for example contributing to the Youth Policy Group of YMCA Europe, which aims to provide policy support and policy papers to decision-makers in Europe.
Eventually I was invited to join the board of YMCA Romania, as a Treasurer of the Federation, which was an honour and a great opportunity to find out more about the real needs of our young people and to see how we can work together to make their lives better through empowerment.
But apart from all of this, I see the global role of YMCA as a critical one in the times that we are facing. Soon I will be heading to New York as part of the delegation of the World Alliance of YMCAs, where we will actually have the largest team, no less than 24 representatives. This shows the true potential of a global youth organization. You can hear and directly involve young people from all continents, you can work with them, listen to their stories, understand them and eventually change their lives. Or better still, help them to change their lives by themselves.
What I personally like most at the YMCA movement is its focus on inclusion and equality. Although this may sound cliché, it is actually more important than ever to address these issues especially for young people. With rising inequality all over the world, as well as increases in discrimination cases and hate speech, the lack of adequate social inclusion can lead to severe divisions, conflicts and missed opportunities. The YMCA focused on supporting the less advantaged even from its founding times, when it offered a hand to young people who were moving to newly-industrialized cities in hopes for a better life.
To sum it up, I see the YMCA Movement with more relevance than ever in:
- Being an authentic voice for young people;
- Giving youth all over the world the chance to be heard, understood and supported;
- Promoting equality and social inclusion among less advantaged young people, coming from all backgrounds;
- Working not just FOR young people, but TOGETHER WITH young people;
My story is just one of tens of thousands of young people and youth workers who are part of the YMCA community and who are passionately empowering young people to reach their potential in all corners of the globe. But the real power of the YMCA is the power of "we". Because alone maybe we can change a thing or two, even a community, but together we can change a country, a generation, a planet.