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A research project on youth participation

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We would like to thank the Secretaría de Pueblos, Movimientos Sociales y Participación Ciudadana, and Consejo Nacional de la Unidad AfroEcuatoriana (CONUAE) for supporting Recrear with contacts in each community and for taking an interest in a youth centered project. Additionally we would like to thank all six local coordinators: Jose Mafare, Rosa, Nelson Sombrano, Maritza Campás, Malena Gamboa, and Joxser Mideros. Thank you for believing in the project from the start and organizing wonderful groups of young people for us to work with.


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100 Voices was designed and delivered by: Kirsten Williams Gioel Gioacchino Valerie Marie Matron

Authors: Kirsten Williams and Gioel Gioacchino Photographer: Valerie Marie Matron Editor: Caitlin Flannery


Graphic designer: Maria Laura Minoli e-mail:


recrearinternational@recrear.info Website: recrearinternational.org Twitter: @ThisIsRecrear


Recrear International c/o Wellington St. Post #300-200 Metcalfe St. Ottawa ON K2P 1P7


At Recrear, we see young people as essential catalysts and agents for impactful sustainable development. We have learned that young people are not all the same. Recrear is a non-profit organization comprised of young social innovators from around the globe. Our mission is to ensure that young people are actively involved in the development of their communities. www.recrearinternational.org 100 Voices was a research project designed to get a sense of how young people in Esmeraldas relate to and understand the development process and their relationship to community. 100 Voices was carried out from January to April 2012 with youths across six communities within the province of Esmeraldas, Ecuador. The study profiled a total of 56 young people between the ages of 15 and 27 and engaged over 200 youth in participatory research workshops. We realized that in order to connect with youths, we had to go beyond traditional research methods to also include interactive, participatory exercises that leverage youth energy. Since we completed our first research project, we have been working to assimilate what we have learned during 100 Voices and incorporate these lessons in the heart and processes of Recrear’s work. We share our recommendations for youth engagement policies in Ecuador with the hope that the lessons learned can also be applied elsewhere.

Why Research?

Our own experiences and observations have taught us that taking the time to reflect can create new opportunities. For this reason, we were inspired to shift our energy towards exploring youth perspectives through research. In the case of 100 Voices, the ultimate goal was to observe the ways in which youth participate in the community development process. In answering the question ‘What does youth participation look like in Esmeraldas?’, we hoped to simultaneously make note of the obstacles and opportunities facing youth. 100 Voices used a replicable ten-day methodology in each of the 6 communities that allowed us to interact with individuals as well as different youth groups. The template of the workshop was crafted around 8 general themes. Each one contributed to understanding a young person’s perspectives towards youth participation in the community development process (see diagram 1). These themes were individually explored through a wide range of participatory development techniques (creative writing, development theater, photography, etc.) and qualitative research tools. We see these kinds of techniques as enabling the process of creating a better dialogue with youth by creating a comfortable space for sharing.

To explore

To capture a more encompassing youth voice, we made a commitment to meeting young people in a wide array of formal, informal, open and isolated spaces (see diagram 2). The full breadth of youth narratives is ultimately what gave way for the key findings highlighted in next section.

Following our three months of research, we felt compelled to share some of the stories we heard by curating a blog for those voices. In this period of being active listeners, we were reminded of the greater value of sharing our lessons learned with organizations who seek to engage young people more effectively. Our 5 biggest takeaways and recommendations have been outlined below.

1 Consider youths’ responsibilities and lifestyle What defines a young person? While the 100 Voices participants were never able to agree on a common age range, they were able to identify that a young person is defined by their responsibilities and general attitude to life. In Esmeraldas, not all young people can afford to enjoy their youth. Premature pregnancy and poverty mean that young people have children at thirteen and are expected to support their family. The dynamics that influence youths in Esmeraldas are very much connected to the precarious socio-economic situation in the province. However, youth are also shaped by a social construct where the needs of the household come first as demonstrated when asked about their sources of happiness and their intrinsic values (see wordle). Responsibilities and lifestyles of young people are important to keep in mind when designing youth programming.

Wordle: Responses to the things that give youth joy: being with the family, study, sport, music.

2 Create safe spaces for young people Participation happens in a time and space. Beyond schools, there are very few places where young people can feel safe and encouraged to work together and share experiences. This need is particularly acute in Esmeraldas, where the spillover of violent activity from the northern border with Colombia has brought drugs and criminal activity into the rest of the province. Even as we conducted our research, it was often a challenge to find a safe space to work, whether it was due to gangs making territorial claims or lack of centers and recreational spaces available to youth. It was not until our experience in San Lorenzo, where a youth center had been built exclusively for the development of young people, that we realized how much having a physical space can make a difference. The ability to get together and engage in healthy recreational activities can promote community and carve out important spaces for young people to destress and re-energize. As a result, providing the space for young people to spend time together in a safe and welcoming environment is extremely valuable. To date, reclaiming recreational spaces and encouraging municipalities to follow through on their commitments of building more play zones continues to be an unresolved issue worth pursuing.

Wordle: Common sites on youth’s community maps (family house, school, beach, soccer field/recreational space)

3 Train for participation young peo As the UN and Restless Development report (2010) suggests, engaging young people in development efforts is an essential first step to building a culture and framework for including youths as leaders and partners in the process. In order to be inspired to take a more proactive attitude, youths need to be sensitized and trained. Workshops and training are very useful in creating the vision, perspective, and interest necessary to adopt a more participative role. In most of the province of Esmeraldas, civil society is extremely stagnant. This means that young people are simply not engaged with any organized activity beyond their school, family, job, and sometimes church. Even so, young people do have passions and hobbies that can provide innovative channels for social change. In effect, we saw an opportunity to transform these passions into tools that engage youths on community development issues in a dynamic, reflective, and proactive way. Esmeraldas, football, music, and dance are very important components of people’s routines and lifestyles. Our own experience of engaging youth through these mediums, as well as the experience of other youth organizations, suggests that participatory strategies are more appealing and less intimidating for youths than traditional data collection strategies.

n through activities that ople enjoy

Wordle: Regular activities in the 24 hours of a young person- summer month: watch television, clean the house, listen to music, play sports.

4 Build networks and work closely with local governments ,Youth-serving organizations are the first actors who can benefit from hearing the perspectives of young people. With this awareness, sustainable action can follow. An ideal collaborative process would include youth-serving organizations reaching out more to one another in order to begin building a stronger provincial network of youth. The pockets of activism and craving for mobilization suggests that these bigger-picture collaborations could change societal perspectives towards youth and create a more resilient voice. Supporting the creation of networks to ensure that ideas and energy are being shared and amplified would greatly increase the impact of organized youths. The idea that civil society is independent from the public sector is unsuitable in the context of Esmeraldas. Despite local government being perceived as corrupt and unhelpful, they are equally regarded by the majority of youth as the actor with the most ability to make an impact in the community. The municipalities’ access to resources, coupled with their ability to leverage wider networks, makes it important for youths to transform their relationship with authorities. To this effect, civil society organizations could be very valuable actors in advocating for the local governments to invest more in youths and create more accountability among municipalities.

5 Provide useful tools, platforms, and a rhythm Creating a space for participation is futile if there is no organization to engender new forms of cooperation among young people. Collaboration and participation are learned by practice, thus civil society organizations working with youths have an important role in promoting critical thinking, facilitating discussions, and offering training. This should not be understood as simply putting young people and their groups on display, as it is commonly seen in Esmeraldas, but actually providing these individuals with valuable community building tools. Workshops on team building, planning, and organizing small initiatives could be successful in supporting youthto-youth collaboration and providing the tools for youth groups to organize and acquire more visibility for themselves. In San Lorenzo, the regular activities at the ‘Casa de la Juventud’ (Youth House) markedly improved the punctuality of youth in workshops hosted at the house compared to other communities lacking a space with scheduled activities.

CONCLUSION At Recrear, we are committed to maintaining a critical, youthful, and informed perspective on community development. Through 100 Voices, we explored more deeply how youth co-exist with other actors and activities in their community. This process represented a precious learning experience for Recrear’s maturation as an NGO, inspiring important discussions on our role and future. The project left us with a deeper understanding of the environment in Esmeraldas and a determination to renew our partnership with youth of the region. This study also revived our commitment to developing techniques, projects and approaches that are targeted and developed for and by young people. 100 Voices served as a reminder that ‘young people’ cannot be considered a homogeneous category. Instead, they need to be understood within the culture and environment in which they have been socialized. Standing by our conviction in youths’ energy and potential, we believe that understanding the uniqueness of young people in every community will enhance our ability to find more innovative, original, and targeted solutions to community development.


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