Recently we gathered in lovely Belgrade to celebrate Balkans, lets get up!’s 10th birthday. Wow, none of us can believe that time has passed that fast!
I founded together with other educators’ friends Balkans, let’s get up! in 2009. We had a working meeting in Ukraine and sitting around a table full of delicious specialities from our countries we discussed Darijo Višević’s, Sandra Topalovski’s and mine idea to build up a programme that supports young people in our home – the Balkans – to improve their skills and to take part in shaping their surroundings. We wanted not only to promote active citizenship, but also to empower, to connect, to motivate people from our generation to believe in their strengths and resources and to value the Balkans and the own neighbours.
We wanted also to create a space, in which every young person can feel free to be themselves, without judgement. We believed that this is the condition that allows people to grow and to develop – to be accepted as one is. We knew that radical ideas, resignation or non-democratic worldviews do not enter the mind of young people because they are bad or uneducated, but because they have missed something earlier in their lives – love, understanding, support, boundaries.
We did it and later other befriended educators joined our team, too. Our goal was to be the example we wanted to inspire the Balkans for – a team without hierarchies, where ideas are welcome and everyone feels the same share of ownership.
In 2010 Balkans, let’s get up! received the award of the Federal Agency for Civic Education, granted to exceptional initiatives that foster democratic values and agency. I still remember how happy we were to receive the award, as we could use the award money to finance the fellows’ projects in the first generation of the school. The awarding ceremony took place in Bonn, together with the award given to the Iranian Human Rights Activist Dr. Shirin Ebadi.
The Balkans, let’s get up! programme’s architecture was simple, but very effective: the annual education for young people aged 18-27 began with a kick-off seminar in the spring/summer, devoted to a certain burning topic from our societies (Inclusion, Ecology, Gender Democracy, just to mention some). During the seminar the fellows broadened their civic knowledge and horizons, made friends from neighbouring countries and celebrated many moments together. With our support they built teams around an own project idea for improving something in their surrounding and we organised funding, so that they could realise their projects. The mid-term module took place some months later, allowing the fellows to exchange about challenges they have with the projects’ implementation and they learned about tools of project management – planning, teamwork, marketing for gaining the target group they wanted to attract. The education was completed with participation in a final module at the end of the year – to evaluate the projects and the whole year-long-learning journey of personality development and skills boost and to celebrate together the successes.
Balkans, let’s get up! has kept this successful structure until today, even if we have enriched the programme with additional shorter formats, too. Throughout the last 10 years we have empowered, educated and connected over 250 young personalities who have implemented 100 projects in the countries of the Balkans.
These days in Belgrade we had a double occasion to celebrate: the 10th anniversary of the initiative, meanwhile a registered NGO in Serbia; and the opening of Balkans, let’s get up!-space: a cosy office with a free room for live educational events that will host in future the NGO’s activities in the heart of Belgrade. We were happy and joyful to see each other all again and to share the “cheers” among founding members and newest active volunteers of Balkans, let’s get up!-team.
Even if many of us and I have long made space for our alumni to shape the programme’s activities and future, whenever Balkans, let’s get up! needs me, I wish to be there for it. This is why I designed and facilitated an organisational development workshop we realised in the anniversary week. It was the result of a one year research and individual coaching process with team members and we used the time to design the future of the programme. It was a satisfying and promising process.
At the 10th birthday party we received many guests and friends of the initiative, we remembered memories from the past, recalling countless moments of happiness and of overcome challenges and wished the best wishes for Balkans, let’s get up! future while the candle of our self made Eurocrem-cake was burning.
People often refer to something they have created as to their baby or child. I like Elizabeth Gilbert’s attitude to that better – according to her, it is not us who create children through our projects, but it is the projects who create us. And I agree with that.
We did not change the world with Balkans, let’s get up!: there is still corruption, conflicts and disadvantaged youth on the Balkans – as in other places of this world, too. But Balkans, let’s get up! has managed to change me. It thought me to see the positive sides and the successful stories, to trust in my and in our abilities to organize ourselves in a constructive way and to believe in the power of our callings. Living our callings indeed does not make the worlds’ problems disappear, but it adds to the humans who live happily lives of fulfilling work and gives example and inspiration to others to follow their own calling, too. It will not happen in this live to see the results of that, but it happens already in this live to be satisfied, to go to bed with a peaceful heart and to not be able to wait for the next morning to continue one’s life project.
And if we refer to the words of our alumni – Balkans, let’s get up! was not for no purpose, as they say it has changed their lives forever. It has changed mine, too. Thank you, Balkans, let’s get up!-Muse! And cheers for many more purposeful years to come, that will inspire and enable young Balkan people to own their lives and shape their societies to be a place of lived democracy, flourishing green economies, social justice and sustaiability.