A Final Reflection from RAISE Youth Romania

NEET youth is one of the most vulnerable groups, and those living in rural areas are even more exposed to various risk factors: scarce of job opportunities, low-income sources, low educational opportunities etc. Romanian rural NEETs are no exception form this unfortunate rule. This is why the RAISE Youth project has addressed this delicate topic in some of the most challenged areas in Romania, bringing a fresh dimension onto the sustainable development and sustainable agriculture, as well as onto the ecotourism.

These topics are new to NEET young people, as they are rather new to most of Romanian youth. Nevertheless, young people are more interested in topics connected to environmental protection nowadays, more than 10 – 15 years ago. Apparently, climate change and angry storms have set a pathway for active curiosity and even the will for civic engagement.

In Romanian Dobrudja region (Constanta and Tulcea counties), the project has connected young people from more than 30 villages. Thus, over 200 young people became beneficiaries of the RAISE Youth project. Should we keep in mind that officially, these people are difficult to track and to bring to (non)conventional educational frameworks, then 200 means a lot.

Plenty of time invested in connecting with the municipalities, hundreds of hours spent identifying and selecting the right people as beneficiaries, making sure these young people are open to new ideas and eager to discover the world, to connect to their peers and even to follow strangers to unfamiliar topics. Some of these uncharted territories comprised workshops on time management, money management, understanding eco-tourism, acquiring basic knowledge on sustainable agriculture, and even entrepreneurial skills. All these assets, although completely new to most of the beneficiaries, were very welcomed and highly appreciated, and the beneficiaries have agreed to further expand their knowledge in this field.

Due to the project activities, 10 NEET young people in Dobrudja region got hired in the tourism industry, as well as in agriculture companies. Thus, they have improved their life by having a source of income. During an informal discussion, they have declared to be proud of getting a job after being assisted through the RAISE Youth project.

According to our survey, over 100 beneficiaries have become more aware about their own resources (life skills, various knowledge and abilities) and thus have become more self-confident. As a result, they are more likely to be self-reliable and generate income. In fact, one of our main goals in this project was to drive NEET young people to broaden their horizons and to set higher life goals. We have focused on increasing their self-confidence, by organising online seminars and in-person workshops on vocational counselling, digital marketing, or building cross-generation support. The vocational counselling online and in-person workshops opened the door for a serious debate on the educational resources and opportunities in the rural areas. This delicate, yet very important topic needs to be addressed by public authorities on a continuous basis, until new vocational schools will open their doors, and rural youth will no longer face disadvantages or be marginalised for not being able to attend schools to far from their home, or with no possibility to be hosted for the studies.

The project has provided valuable resources for employability and entrepreneurship, but it has also created the framework for civic engagement. Thus, some of the beneficiaries have proved to be proud volunteers and active citizens, shaping strong partnerships with the municipality, during local seminars for community design. The events were organized in the home villages of the beneficiaries, and brought together NEET youth, local councillors, public servants, who have improved their dialogue. According to the participants, most of them would like more support from the municipality regarding community services for youth, job information or training. Furthermore, we have organised environmental protection activities such as cleanup sessions, or short hikes to local forests, where we have facilitated discussions about the benefits of having and maintaining a clean environment. Such activities were highly appreciated by the participants, as a strong way of getting people of all ages involved for a better cause. In fact, these events have been the perfect opportunity for the NEET beneficiaries who are parents, to bring their own children to our activities.

Apart from the success stories, this project has faced some challenges as well. As in the rural area life is difficult and job opportunities are rare and low paid, some of our beneficiaries chose to work abroad, in West-European countries, in low-skilled activities in construction or in agriculture industry. This is in fact one of the ‘daily routines’ in rural Romania, the country with the lowest per capita income in the European Union.

At the end of the day, the RAISE Youth project has brought a ray of sunshine and has improved the life of several hundreds of people, while impacting their relatives and friends, as well. Similar projects, who teach people how to fish instead of giving them a piece of bread, prove to have stronger and deeper impact.

Cosmic Barzan, RAISE Youth regional demo center coordinator for Constanta – Tulcea counties

Ioana Manaila, RAISE Youth Romania communication manager