Youth for Change: building bridges between Belgium, Tanzania and Benin

Nina Honnay & Bieke Vandamme
17 August 2018
'We are the next generation, and we can help make the world a better place for everyone.' Cathia, a 17-year-old living in Aalst, perfectly summarises what the project 'Youth for Change' by the NGO VIA Don Bosco is all about. Let us take you on a fascinating journey with the youth of today!

Youth for Change is a learning programme that brings together young people from Belgium, Tanzania and Benin to work on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) during two years. The first year focuses on raising awareness and preparing for an exchange trip, the so-called Youth Forum. At the end of the first year, the Belgian students leave for Tanzania or Benin to meet their peers. During this trip, they have the opportunity to exchange ideas on the SDGs and sustainability projects they want to set up together. The second year of the programme is used to implement the projects, thereby strengthening the students’ commitment to a better world. In other words, Youth for Change is a real learning and exchange programme, both for the Belgian students and for the students from Tanzania and Benin. They all develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to become real global citizens committed to a more equitable and inclusive world.

Love is the driving force behind everything. It is because we love each other that we have been able to achieve so much together.

Idérick, 17 years, Don Bosco Cotonou

Youth for Change is a unique project in Belgium, for several reasons. True to our vision and mission, we give priority to technical and vocational schools. This year, DvM, a trade, technical and vocational school in Aalst, and the Institut Marie Immaculée Montjoie (IMMI), a school in Anderlecht, were linked to a Don Bosco school in Tanzania and Benin respectively. We help not only the Belgian students prepare this exchange trip, but also the Tanzanian and Benin youngsters, so as to give them all the same prior knowledge on sustainable development that will allow them to exchange ideas as equals when they eventually meet. Finally, the project is not limited to raising awareness among the students. We go one step further and really want to mobilise them and urge them to make concrete commitments. That is why the students receive the necessary guidance and support to implement their own projects during the second year.

For example, the Anderlecht students decided to introduce a sorting system at their school. They contacted Net Brussels, which will carry out awareness-raising campaigns and provide the necessary materials. In addition, the students will also organise a fundraising event for homeless people in Brussels.

The students from Aalst and their peers in Tanzania will set up a small company at their schools in the form of a second-hand shop. The profits will be invested in vending machines that offer healthy food and drinks. In addition, the students work on clean water and personal well-being. They will raise awareness of (toilet) hygiene among their peers in Belgium and Tanzania and write a song against bullying.

White and black hand
© Via Don Bosco

The exchange trips, the cherry on the cake of the first year of the programme, took place in Tanzania and Benin in April. The students got to know each other better and did not need long to overcome prejudices. Together, they elaborated their projects and commitments, and exchanged ideas on numerous subjects, such as children’s rights, one’s own culture, dreams for the future, etc. In addition, there was also time for some small visits, for example to a former slave trading port, a village with pile dwellings, a coffee farm and a company employing disabled people in Tanzania. Of course, the trip would not have been complete without a visit to some of the projects set up by the Salesians of Don Bosco: shelters for street children or teenage mothers, literacy courses, vocational trainings, etc. These intense experiences not only invite reflection, they especially motivate the students to work towards a better world for everyone.

Youth for Change has changed my vision of life and has really made me want to do something to make the world a better place.

Coretta, 18 years, IMMI Anderlecht

For all the students who had the opportunity to participate in the project and the trip, it was a wonderful and enriching experience that they will never forget. Or, as Don Bosco himself said: 'You have to be transformed through encounters.' And that is precisely what the students have done. We are curious to see how this experience will help them blossom in the coming years!

VIA Don Bosco

Don Bosco is a recognised Belgian NGO that supports education and youth employment in Africa and Latin America. For more than 45 years, we have been providing pedagogical and financial support to local schools. Our projects focus on the development of social and professional skills among disadvantaged young people. In this way, we help them to become active global citizens and to find a place on the labour market, all while building bridges between schools in Belgium and elsewhere in the world. VIA Don Bosco is working towards a just society that meets the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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