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Why Youth Centers UP?

Youth Centers UP was a project funded by the European Solidarity Corps that aimed to create new safe spaces for expression and learning, dedicated to the young people. In the same time, in the context of Timisoara becoming the European Capital of Culture, there was also a need for spaces where young people could express and develop freely. Neighborhood youth centers are now spaces for all young people, regardless of identity, preferences, sex, religion or other characteristics. Thus, the project aimed to lay the foundations in order to become communication spaces between young people and the community, where they come together and develop (themselves).

Over a period of 40 days, young citizens from 26 different countries had been engaged in solidarity activities as volunteers, alongside the Community of Timisoara, to set up and transform old industrial buildings into urban youth centers.

“After many days of planning, we came to see the youth center. The feelings were mixed, it will take a lot of work, many hours and maybe a little love for the cause, so that the old building becomes a beacon for culture. The strange thing is, however, that Ihave no doubt that we will succeed, because the people in our team are amazingly inspired and at the same time, good and they care, that there is not the slightest fear that we will not reach our goal.” 

– Marietta Tselepi, Greece

„Today we had the action in the street, so many questions appeared in our minds: can we convince them to join our mission? We tried to stay positive.”

– Danjela Jakaj, Albania

“One of the main sources of our motivation came also from the support of the community. I have witnessed many examples of kindness from neighbors. One morning, we had not yet received the working tools and a man, who worked nearby, came to us with three tools and enjoyed the day. Also, other neighbors gave us water and food when we all needed it, and they also welcomed us with open arms and a smile on our faces.”

– Red team (Lipovei Youth Centre)

„This week we started cleaning the youth centre. The first time I saw the space, I thought it would probably take weeks for it to be cleaned, but now I realized that through teamwork, anything is possible. I feel that our centre is really beautiful and has a lot of prospects to become very great with a beautiful yard, I am very pleased.„

– Christina Fountou, Greece

„Every day this week we came home, dirty, tired, with plaster pieces in the hair. Our feet and hands are covered with cement. The feeling of fatigue is a little overwhelming for everyone, but the pride and satisfaction are even greater. How can we be so tired, sweaty and yet so happy? Maybe that’s what volunteering in about.”

– Red team (Lipovei Youth Centre)

„Being a part of the Youth Centres Up project was a life changing experience that also changed me as a person. If you asked me if I’d do it again, I’d never think twice before saying yes. I met amazing people from literally all over the world and made beautiful friendships that I want to keep for the rest of my life.

I had the luck to be part of an amazing team of volunteers that made the process of building that youth centre so much smoother and fun despite the challenges and we achieved the goal of making a safe place for the younger population of Timisoara. In most of the days I got to the dorm exhausted and covered in dust, cement, paint (a lot of paint) and sweat but always with the amazing feeling of knowing I was doing the right thing and that I was making a change in that community. I felt useful and that I was not wasting my summer break melting on the couch looking at my phone.

I have so many great memories from this project. From the jokes, the cultural nights and complaining about walls to the trips and chilled moments, to the talks about solidarity and knowing how to get to a consensus in your team… There’s just so much I could say about how much fun it was to be a part of this and how much I miss everyone that I could almost write a book. I came back home a different person. I gained skills, I met people, I learned a new language and got to know a lot of many different cultures.

The FITT team was amazing and they did everything to make sure we felt good during this project. They were always by our side and ready to help us if we needed a hand (or last-minute materials) and none of this would’ve been possible without them. They were one of the main reasons this project was this successful.

Ask me again. Would I repeat the experience? Definitely.

Not only I gained skills and friends and a couch to sleep on in different countries, but I also gained a family.”

– Andreia Nunes, Portugal

„It was around eleven in the night when I finally arrived in Timisoara after two flights, a three hour stay at the Frankfurt airport and a four hour ride. I was so very tired and after my roommate brought me to my room for the next 40 days I had only the presence of mind to put on my pyjamas, wash my teeth and fall on my new bed.

The next day brought a warm sunny summer morning and an hour long walk to the Youth House. Looking back, I was so nervous and shy that first day, afraid of starting conversations with people who at the end of the project had become so very close to my heart. That first day, we painted our flag and because green and red with an yellow circle between them was kind of boring, the Portuguese decided to write “welcome” in every language that would be spoken in the project. When the Portuguese girls walked around with our flag asking everyone “Do you see your language here?” was the moment I felt that this project could be a truly wonderful thing.

Training was strange for a lack of a better word. My team, which I now think it was surely the best ( I may be biased….) was still starting to know one another and fighting out how the work together. Still, when the training ended we weren’t a proper team. Not yet. That would come later.

..

The first two weeks were hard, emotionally if not physically. On one hand, our centre was in such degraded state we could only wonder if we could even manage to finish on time. We didn’t have a floor! That was always on the forefront of our minds and all we could talk about. Our conversations between us and with people of other teams always, every single time, ended in the same way: “We don’t have a floor!”. On the other hand, our community engagement wasn’t very rewarding. We thought we were in a neighbourhood who didn’t care about the work we were doing and didn’t want to help. Through the next weeks, we found out just how wrong we really were.

The Red Team worked hard, so so hard. We stayed late on multiple occasions. We painted walls with only the lights from the FITT van to light our work. We would arrive at the dorms covered in paint and walls everyday. We built a floor. We spent three or four weeks working exclusively on the walls (we now hate walls). And we danced and sang while we did it. We had fun. And when the day came for our opening ceremony and we weren’t expecting more than twenty people and suddenly we had seventy inside and out of our centre…. Well, I haven’t felt more proud.

However, no matter how proud I am of our work, what I treasure most about my time in Timisoara is our everyday lives. The dorms. The small stories that made our days brighter. The common meetings spent laughing. The fact that people who are now hundreds of kilometres away from me were just down the hall or in the floor below or above me. The dinners in the second floor kitchen. The gossip of what had happened that day in the others centres. Sharing our lives so we could compare the differences and similarities between all the countries. The nights spent in the yard, dancing and singing some more. I would do it all again, the hard work and the countless hours fixing walls, just so I could walk those halls one more time, saying good morning to everyone and attend one last morning spot.

I will forever keep this project in my heart. The people I met are people whom I miss everyday. And I can only be grateful that I applied and was lucky enough to be accepted. And even that my heart broke when leaving Timisoara, even that sometimes I wake up expecting to see my roommate on the bed next to mine, I can take comfort in knowing that a piece of me was left behind in the walls of a youth centre behind the bazar and next to the school in Lipovei, Timișoara.”

– Beatriz Botequilha, Portugal

CONTACT

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