In the words of Nemanja Andjelkovic: “We need to show young people that their opinions are equally valued as any other.”
Nemanja Andjelkovic, 26, is a second-year PhD student in Political Sciences and is working as a Junior Researcher at the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory where he focuses on democratic innovations that enhance the level of democratic participation of citizens, especially among young citizens. He is also a member of the UN Youth Advisory Group and with other members, in the past three months, has been empowering his peers in Kragujevac, Sremski Karlovci, Sombor, Novi Pazar, Knjaževac and Bajina Bašta, to create and implement initiatives in the domain of human rights, gender equality, environmental issues, anti-discrimination, media literacy, youth engagement and social entrepreneurship, and working on greater participation of young people and the creation of space for social engagement of young people at the local level.
The goal of this project is to show young people how important their voice is, while also supporting them in articulating that voice and showing what they can do when they mobilize together. Peer support is crucial because they can relate more to us and vice versa, since we know better what bothers them and what difficulties they face. It is easier for them to open up to us. On the workshop I participated, we were focused on environmental issues as those issues are proved to be high on young people’s list of priorities and concerns. We found that they were fully engaged in these topics once we started to learn ad work together and they had no reservations regarding the potential to stop and decrease the negative environmental trends in their local municipality.
I think that young people are generally aware of the importance of the topics of human rights, gender equality, but they are not encouraged to get to know more about these issues or get involved in fighting for their rights, which is a big problem as they do not get used to being active citizens.
Regarding challenges young people face, I think the biggest one is the lack of support both from our political system, and also people around them as they face a lot of cynicism about making an impact. They would be more interested to engage if they were not discouraged so much by their environment, since they have the potential to change how we see political life and get things moving in the right direction. For that, they need all the support and encouragement they can get from all of us. We need to show them that we want them to raise their voice and speak their opinions which will be equally valued as any other opinions.
Also, youngsters have a lot of enthusiasm and will to learn and get better, their hope in change is what gives them an extra power to change things. It’s important to talk about these topics with peers, and make them realize how important it is to be active and speak your mind on various social issues. As a member of UN Youth advisory group I believe that the UN can do great things by creating programs such as this one that really encourages youngsters and gives them resources to try to actually make an impact and change society for the better.
The Peer Mentoring Program is implemented by UN Women and UNFPA with the support of the Italian Embassy in Belgrade and endorsed by the Ministry of Tourism and Youth of the Republic of Serbia.