Last June, 14 of us young people from Kilkenny and three leaders from Ossory Youth spent five days in a town called Formigine in Italy with a partner youth group participating in a European Union-funded youth democracy project.
And this month the day finally arrived when the 16 young people from Formigine arrived to spend five days in Kilkenny to continue the work of the project.
With the aim of promoting young people’s participation in civic life and in the democratic structures of their local communities and giving them an official voice in local decision making, youth democracy projects require the official partnership of a statutory and a non-statutory organisation in each country. Therefore this project, which is a first for Ossory Youth, involves Kilkenny Local Authorities and Ossory Youth and the Comune Di Formigine and Associazione Twelve Stars youth organisation in Italy.
The overall aim of the project is to support the Italian young people while they create a youth forum in Formigine, with the young people in Kilkenny where Comhairle na nOg, Kilkenny’s youth forum, is in existence acting as mentors and advisers to their Italian counterparts in the process of establishing their forum.
When we travelled to Formigine, which is approximately the same size as Kilkenny and situated in the north of Italy near Modena, earlier this year, compared to all the fantastic youth facilities that Kilkenny has (Desart Hall Youth Centre, The Drum, The Rock), we were shocked to find that the young Italians don’t even have a cinema, and the rail service doesn’t run during the evening!
Whilst in Formigine we met Mayor Franco Richeldi, saw the town by bicycle, played volleyball, watched the European soccer championship final, and visited the local market. Many hours were spent discussing the steps involved in establishing a youth forum, and we also completed a survey about young people in Formigine and the stereotypes that older people have about them. Luckily the Italians were so fluent in English that language wasn’t a barrier, so the craic was no problem to be had!
The friendships between us and the Italians were strengthened during the Halloween mid-term when the Italians came to Kilkenny and the 30 of us all stayed together for five days in Kilkenny College. During this time hosting the Formigine group, we showcased some of the work completed by Comhairle na nÓg and Youthink youth group, particularly the graffiti project at Ossory Bridge and the mural on the hoarding at Walkin Street.
This led to discussions about what the Italian youth group could do to promote community activities in Formigine in the context of overcoming the challenges they face in forming a youth forum. In various workshops we all discussed how they might overcome the obstacles they face drawing on our experiences in Kilkenny.
The visit also included a formal reception with the Deputy Mayor John Coonan, a tour of historic Kilkenny and a Halloween-themed fancy-dress party in Desart Hall Youth Centre. Overall, it was a great experience being part of a project that will have lasting benefits for the young people in Formigine and some of us made friends for life with the friendly and vibrant Italians.
And the best part is yet to come – our Kilkenny group return to Formigine for a final time next June to complete the work of the project.