June 28 dawned wet and dreary in Kilkenny, but packing sun protection was a must for 14 young people aged 15-18 and leaders from Ossory Youth as they set off for five sun-drenched days in the Italian town of Formigine.
Formigine, with a similar population to Kilkenny, is in northern Italy with Modena being the nearest city and the group from Kilkenny were finally meeting 15 young people from Formigine who are the partner youth group in an EU-funded youth democracy project.
The trip to Italy was an eye-opening experience for the Kilkenny participants in how the local democratic structures of European countries are highly different, where on one hand they formally met Formigine mayor Franco Richeldi, who is directly elected and is three years into his second and final five-year term of office, and on the other hand where no youth forum of any type exists.
Five busy days in Formigine had many highlights, including a cycling tour of the town and surrounding countryside, visiting Modena, and eating wonderful pizzas and even more delicious ice cream.
A bonus was being in Formigine to experience the semi-final and final of the European soccer championship, even though Italy was defeated in the final.
With the aim of promoting young people’s participation in civic life 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.
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.
In Kilkenny, the young people have a voice in the local democratic structures through Comhairle Na nOg, Kilkenny’s youth forum.
The absence of a youth forum of any type in Formigine was the main reason for establishing the youth democracy project, with the young people in Kilkenny acting as mentors to their Italian counterparts.
In tandem with this, the Kilkenny participants want to learn about different mechanisms to give young people a voice in local or national decision making throughout Europe.
The 18-month project commenced in April and involves the young people from Kilkenny travelling to Formigine on this trip and again in June 2013.
The group from Formigine is due to spend five days in Kilkenny in early November. The groups also interact through email and social media as they develop the overall project.
The young people from Kilkenny city, Kilmoganny, Callan and Castlecomer share an interest in aspects of where they live. They tend to ask “why is that happening?” or “why is that not happening?”
They want to know how decisions are made locally and nationally and they want their opinions heard. Six of the participants are currently elected members of Comhairle Na nOg in County Kilkenny and will conclude their two-year term of office in October.
A number of participants also come from Youthink, a youth group in Ossory Youth who want to have a positive role to play in the life of Kilkenny city and who have carried out youth mental health and environmental projects in the past year.
In the youth democracy project all these young people will continue to utilise the skills and knowledge gained in representing young people, interacting with local councillors, developing strategies to address issues affecting young people and planning and implementing projects.
“We probably took it for granted that we have a formal youth forum in Kilkenny,” said Comhairle na Nog chairwoman and group member Brid Lyons.
“Finding ourselves giving loads of practical advice to the group and leaders in Formigine in terms of the do’s and don’ts of establishing a youth forum seemed strange at first but turned out to be hugely rewarding.”
The Kilkenny group has now recommenced meeting in Ossory Youth to continue the project work and to plan for hosting the young people from Formigine from October 31 to November 4.
“We want to work hard for the five days in Kilkenny while also finding the time to show them the sights of Kilkenny and give them as wonderful as time as we had in Formigine,” said group member Sinead Doran.
“We are already looking forward to the return visit to Italy in June 2013 to formally conclude the project with the establishment of a Formigine youth forum.”
Having visited the Castello di Formigine built in 1201, a visit to Kilkenny Castle is a must when the young people visit the marble city, as both towns have historic castles at their heart.
In fact the first contact between Formigine and Kilkenny dates from 2009 when both towns were partners in a European project relating to the eco-restoration of historic city centres entitled Urbact II.
Project leaders Joseph Mguni, Marthe Koop and Patrick Bookle were delighted with the quality and volume of work achieved in five days and the fantastic interaction between the two groups, with Marthe adding that “the gang were fantastic ambassadors for the city and county in general.”