March 17, 2022 – Meet Goran, the head of the youth department of PRONI, Vukovar’s center for social education.
Although their name and title may seem a bit ambiguous, a quick visit to their website makes the word youth stand out more than anything else. This is a clear indication of what PRONI stands for and what they have been doing for over 20 years. With its primary focus on youth work, which includes working directly with adolescents and young adults aged 18 to 30 and collaborating with coaches and educators involved in this work, the main goals of the center are to improve the quality of life of youth and their social awareness and inclusion. Primarily through EU social programmes, in PRONI they have partnered with the relevant institutions to promote informal youth education, mobility and volunteering as modern values and ways of realizing everyone’s full potential.
We spoke to Goran, the youth leader of PRONI, who told us all about what PRONI is doing and what the youth in Vukovar still need.
What is PRONI, how long has it been around and what do you do every day?
PRONI was first officially registered in 1998, which means we have been successful for well over 20 years. In addition to our first office in Vukovar, we have also opened offices in Osijek and in Sisak. Unfortunately, the one in Sisak had to be closed, but we worked there for a good 15 years. Our focus is on working directly with young people, regardless of their status (students, unemployed, employed, etc.). This means that we also work with youth workers and organizations, including city councils, schools and other organizations involved in social work. We are currently running 16 projects and our days are packed with activities. We are hosting 2 Erasmus students here in Vukovar who spend their days volunteering, studying and learning Croatian!
What are your long-term goals?
Our mission is to improve the quality of life of youth through opportunities to develop their skills, abilities and competencies. We strive for this through practical work in voluntary and social projects and their integration into a so-called structured dialogue. More precisely, in cooperation with the Vukovar City Council and through the input we receive directly from the youth, we implement the city youth program. The program does not take into account the cultural and entertainment aspect of life, but also employment opportunities, education and public facilities to encourage hobbies and interests.
How do you reach the youth of Vukovar?
PRONI and his friends have a way of discovering each other. We have set up an information center so they can easily reach us through social media or in our physical space where we always keep our doors open and the atmosphere is warm and welcoming. We try to stay up to date on social media, follow the trends and reach our audience on all trending platforms. We have also set up our little corners in the schools and hired teachers as our ambassadors. The students themselves are also very effective at spreading the word as they really enjoy many of our activities and look forward to coming back with friends.
What are currently the main projects of the branch in Vukovar, what are you proud of?
We are very proud of the dialogue that we have successfully established between the youth of our city and the city administration. The long-term results of our work are also beginning to show, which is one of the most rewarding aspects of our work. Our youth advisory board serves to improve the exchange of information and resource networking with all relevant institutions. As I mentioned earlier, this includes the City Council, National Employment Service, Home Office, local library and more. Perhaps the best thing that has come out of our initiatives has been the organic and spontaneous creation of School Volunteering Clubs, where the students are the managers and planners. They enjoy autonomy and are therefore motivated to continue learning, developing and socializing.
Which groups would you like to invite to better cooperation?
First of all I would like to say that we are very grateful for our partners and all the great work we have done together so far. We are not lacking in institutional support in the physical sense, but we think the school curriculum should follow suit. Schools should do much more work to encourage critical thinking, activism and quality management in leisure time. Students do not have enough autonomy when it comes to extracurricular activities, where they are often offered what is available based on teachers’ timetables and not their interests. Schools should also be much more involved in informal education, or at least be encouraged.
Is Vukovar a good place for youth, how do your foreign volunteers perceive it?
Vukovar is of course excellent! It’s quite small but practical. All facilities are easily accessible and often within walking distance. The standard is still much cheaper than many other European cities and thanks to PRONI’s unique location in the city there are many things we can offer for free. Our volunteers find it interesting, albeit different, as they usually come from much larger cities. The main things they like about Vukovar are the feeling of safety, security and acceptance. They also find that sometimes things seem a lot simpler here than in their home countries. They look forward to their visit and leave fulfilled and happy. Another great thing for our overseas volunteers is that everything we do is integrated and we offer them extra activities and free language courses.
What message would you like to send?
Just that we are here and that what we offer should be used. Youth exchange is a wonderful thing and perhaps one of the most enriching experiences in life. In our latitudes it is still unknown and is not promoted enough. Sometimes one is afraid of this unknown, but everyone should know that the process has become very smooth and I would like to encourage young people to step forward and seize the opportunity to learn and travel.
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