How to reach kids outside TikTok – Latvian success stories on engaging the youth

We all know the determined 5-year-old who proudly tells he is going to become a car mechanic and is all about engines and car models. However, you probably also know the youngster who tries ten different things but doesn't stay put with any of them: just as new soccer shoes are out of the box, bouldering has stolen their attention. And for some kids it seems to be a big challenge to find even a single interest. What all these young individuals need is patience, time and opportunities to try out different things to finally find their calling. Sometimes providing all that can be a challenge, but also solutions exist.

By Linda TalveInteract programme
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In Latvia, demographic trends have been marked with high level of emigration. Especially young educated people have tended to pack their packs and family to leave the country in hope of better living elsewhere. This is one of the main causes behind the country’s population decrease of nearly 20% since year 2000. Additionally, as in most of Europe, especially the more remote regions in Latvia are facing challenges with ageing populations. The youth are prone to move to gain access to better educational opportunities and more inspiring things to do in their free time. Without such possibilities the youths are at a higher risk of leading an unhealthy lifestyle and becoming excluded from the society.

Empowering the youth is crucial for keeping them motivated to seek for a meaningful path and to find it without having to leave the region or even the country. But what is actually being done to invest in the youth in Latvia to give them opportunities and meaning to stay in their home regions? Let’s have a look.

 

Skateboarding with celebrities and bike racing in virtual space

One of the remote areas in Latvia is the Eastern-most region of the country, Latgale. “One third of the people in our region live in the countryside. The issue for the young people is the distance and accessibility of public transport to the local centers. Another problem is the high number of youths that are smoking, using alcohol and being physically passive.”, tells Iluta Kriškijāne, project manager of RiskFree project between Latvia and Lithuania. To get the local young people up on their feet, Kriškijāne and her Latvian colleagues joined forces with partners from Lithuania. Apart from having developed methods for the professionals to be better equipped to fight for social inclusion and integration of youth in their municipalities, the most visible part of their work has inevitably been the improved sport infrastructure in 15 municipalities on both sides of the border and the colourful sports events for the youth to engage in with celebrities.

RiskFree Interreg project skatepark Latvia
Skatepark opening by the RiskFree project in Krāslava, Latvia. Photo by Arturs Bogdanovics.

I like to ride a scooter. Previously I was able to do that only on streets and courts, but now that we have a new skate park in Krāslava I can go there to learn new tricks. I enjoy spending my free time there with my friends, learning from each other and competing with each other, beating new records. This skatepark is really popular among children and youth in our town. I have noticed that smaller children are going there, and I am sure that they will keep going there also when they get older.

Alekss Juhna, 14 years

At the opening event of the skatepark in Krāslava, I was amazed and surprised of the variety of tricks demonstrated by professionals. They were open, purposeful and strong. And that is why I focused on this sport.

Andris Putnis, 9 years

VeloL Interreg project photo Karolis Kavolelis
Bikers at the first VeloL project event. Photo Karolis Kavolelis

Project Manager Marius Bernatonis of another Latvian-Lithuanian project VeloL points out that the smart information technologies tend to involve children faster than sports and hence make it a challenge to engage young people in sports. “For this reason, we must be modern and go hand in hand with technology through the prism of sport”, he explains and tells that besides having organised colourful biking events they have managed to get Latvian and Lithuanian kids to come and sweat on smart bike trainers while competing with their peers through virtual connection. Opportunities that are not always at hand in small municipalities.

 

 

Business ideas fresh from high school classrooms

Alise Plotova
Alise Plotova, 17, took part in the DigiYouth project.

The Ventspils Youth House has played a strong role for 5 years in providing activities for the local youth through non-formal educational projects in the Latvian region Kurzeme. Kristians Jacevičs, Head of the Youth House, knows that sometimes a single activity can be enough to open up a youth’s eyes to see his strength in something. But Jacevičs continues to state that activities that last a bit longer are often more effective for the youth. Recently, the Youth House has taken part in the project DigiYouth where young Latvians team up with Estonian, Finnish and Swedish students in a three-semester study programme to try out their entrepreneurial skills by building their own start-up companies. Alise Plotova, 17, dreams of one day starting her own business and was one of the Latvian high school students to participate in the project (to get a sense of the energy in the project, check their Facebook page). “During the project I learned about not only entrepreneurship and teamwork, but also about Estonian and Finnish personality. The project builds cultural understanding, and these skills will be useful when I build my own company.”, Plotova says. Together with her team they built a student company called Clay Play, whose product is paintable 3D toy made of recycled wastepaper.

Clay Play startup model from Interreg project DigiYouth
Paintable toy by Clay Play, a student start-up from the DigiYouth project. Photo by Alise Plotova.

 

Similar youth start-ups have been built also in the newly launched project ChangeMakers. Communication Officer Adele Sāmite is proud to tell that during their online boot camp in October 2020 altogether 27 international student start-ups saw the daylight. Latvian, Estonian, Finnish and Swedish students came up with innovative business solutions for environmental challenges at play in the Baltic Sea region. And it was not exciting only for the students, but also their teachers learned a lot. Laura Ende works as an English teacher in Salacgriva, Vidzeme, and tells that this was her first ever international project: “At first, I was scared. I wasn’t sure if I had enough knowledge in business and economics. But now I have gained new experience and I’m very excited and thankful for the opportunity to learn and grow as a teacher. This experience will definitely give me inspiration and motivation to move forward in future.”

 

ChangeMakers Interreg project bootcamp
Participants of the first bootcamp of the ChangeMakers project in October 2020. Photo by Laura Ende.

 

Yes – this is rocket science!

In addition to waking up young Latvian’s business instincts, also science has received its new stars through initiatives focusing on students. Pauls Irbiņš from the SpaceTEM project is well aware that space industry is not high on the list of topics by YouTubers and TikTokers, much consumed media by the young generation. That is why he and his colleagues have been working hard to inspire students to participate in real-life technology development projects. Siiri Talvistu, 27, was one of the young participants in the project and describes her experience with great enthusiasm:

Siiri Talvistu during her SpaceTEM internship in Riga, holding a J-pole antenna of a rocket she built as part of her tasks.

I got an opportunity to take part of the summer internship program organised by the SpaceTEM project. I applied for a position at the Latvian Heliocentric Technologies as an Assistant Engineer in the project “Developing altitude measurement system for high altitude (100km), high speed rocket. Possible solutions”. The position offered me a wonderful chance to have a hands-on experience in the amateur rocket engineering process with building and testing out engineering solutions that would work well for the rocket(s) in development. The experience gave me a good understanding on the development process of such a project and certainly helped me in getting a good start in my career. At the moment, I am working at the German Aerospace Center in the Mobile Rocket Base as a research engineer in the telemetry department for sounding rockets. I can say that being part of this internship played an important role in getting my dream job and I wish more students can experience with their internships such a working environment and mentality.

 

Being heard and having a say in society

Shaping Cities project Interreg
Students studying deprived areas of a city during a Shaping Cities workshop. Photo by Shaping Cities project.

Urban planning has become more and more inclusive over the past decades, also on both sides of the Latvian-Russian border. Both private people and different professional groups are given a bigger say on the developments of the living space around them. But, to get the younger citizen groups to take part in these activities, a special focus is needed. Two projects dealing with urban planning, namely Shaping Cities and Sticky Urban Areas, have involved active young students in their workshops and hackathons to search for and find new and fresh ideas for the development of deprived and green territories as well as touristic attractions, tells Project Manager Natālija Jupatova. Working with experts in real development projects has provided them with great insights.

It has become rather evident that the young Latvians, together with their fellow neighbours, are enjoying a multitude of fun, inspiring and forward-looking activities both in their free time as well as through their education. Joining efforts across borders is vital to open new interesting horizons for both the adults working with youth as well as the youngsters themselves. All this is made possible by the brave and skilled professionals. They know the pain points and have the energy to tackle the issues that are essential for more meaningful young years and future for our children just where they are.

Chapeau!

 

The projects in the article have been financed by the following programmes:

Interreg Central Baltic (DigiYouth, Change Makers)
Interreg Estonia-Latvia (SpaceTEM)
Interreg Latvia-Lithuania (RiskFree, VeloL)
ENI CBC Latvia-Russia (Shaping Cities, Sticky Urban Areas)