“It has changed my outlook on life”: Visiting Paris for ENYA 2017

Guest blogger Jack writes about his experiences with this year’s ENYA project, which lets young people air their views on a children’s rights issue to the annual conference of the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children. This year, ENYA looked at issues around youth identity and relationships— including those about education on sexuality.

Participating in the ENYA 2017 project really has been an influential and enlightening experience for me.

It all started at a small organisation in Perth known as RASAC— the Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre, a charity that aims to help women, girls and young boys deal with issues relating to sexual violence, however big or small.

A lot of people wouldn't expect a boy like me to be volunteering at what many would consider a 'feminist' organisation; personally, I find the work that the RYI (RASAC Youth Initiative) Youth Ambassadors do highly beneficial and impactful, both for me and other groups we've worked with.

We began work on ENYA in early 2017 by looking at identity and relationships. Doing activities and looking at these topical issues in great detail was something that I felt I hadn't explored enough before: whether in school, at home or elsewhere. After laying the foundations for our recommendations, we discussed the impact of technology on identity and relationships, with an emphasis on social media and how accessible it is to both the general population and those who maybe shouldn't be using it—and, by proxy, potentially harmful and frightening information such as pornography and cyberbullying. It was agreed that these were relevant and pressing issues, so we chose to incorporate our views and suggestions on how to improve it into our list of recommendations for the ombudspersons. Other topics we found to be important were a proper work-life balance, and age-appropriate and easy-to-access information being given to children and parents— specifically regarding sexual and mental health.

Along with one other Youth Ambassador, I was selected to represent Scotland in Paris— an opportunity that I was ecstatic to have been given. I am studying French in school, so I thought that getting to visit France would be a good chance to develop my language skills, as well as to meet young people from all across Europe, learning about their cultures and issues relevant to them and forming lasting bonds with people who I otherwise would never have gotten to meet. The conference itself definitely exceeded my expectations of what it would be like: I had expected well-ordered, formal discussions about our issues and recommendations– and these certainly were a part of it. However, plenty of chances were given for breaks and socialising with the representatives from elsewhere, most of whom I have retained contact with and am glad to have done so. The range of ages was a great thing to have too: people from the ages of 14 through 17 all had different ideas and issues to share, but everyone appreciated and considered each idea equally in order to make our final list to send to a follow-up conference of the ombudspersons in Helsinki. Sadly, no-one from Scotland will be present there, but we are pleased for our friends in Wales and Cyprus, who will attend to represent all 22 of the young people who became so close over just two and a half days.

Overall, participating in ENYA 2017 has really developed my views and opinions on a wide range of topics, helped me gain important life skills relating to communication and rational thinking, and allowed me to form lasting bonds with many incredible people who I otherwise would have had no idea existed. I urge anyone who has the ambition to go out and do something like this as part of a volunteering project or a school group to do so: truly, it has changed my outlook on life.