Youth heroes: UNMIK and YMCA support teenagers tackling issues of the day through multi-ethnic TV series
“I really want to do something about hate speech, because I really hate it,” says 12-year-old Toni to a group of his friends. Along with artist Mirjeta Qehaja from the K-Roma community, the group of friends goes about town painting over hateful graffiti, wiping out hate both literally and metaphorically together, as a collaborative multi-ethnic team. A spot where the walls are covered in hateful text and dirt next to a train station, frequented largely by young people on their way to school, is transformed, cleaned and painted.
This may sound like fantasy, but it is one of the episodes in a series titled Y-Heroes – filmed by a production crew in early spring, where young children from across Kosovo communities in each episode explore ways to tackle a diverse set of issues related to the environment, hate speech, access to education, gender empowerment, youth involvement in decision-making, among others.
From young volunteers recording short messages from the youth about the decision-making process, expressing their needs and wishes for changes in their own municipality to building a ramp for people in wheelchairs at the SHFMU Pavarsia Primary school in Pristina, the young heroes worked together to inspire change for the generation that holds the key to Kosovo’s future.
The idea was born at YMCA Youth Centres across Kosovo, and supported by UNMIK, given the need for more role models for teenagers and to encourage engagement, so young people may actively become more positively and constructively involved in the community.
“Our programme involved two parts. The first one was about how young people dressed as Y-Heroes take action in the community and the second part was about the field programmes that we implement with hundreds of young people from all over Kosovo,” said Dorina Lluka, the head of YMCA, who spearheaded this project.
“New generations are more passionate about preserving nature, advocating and actively getting engaged in action to protect it,” she added.
Bright children, bright futures
Pioneering topics such as these at a young age is an important step in the path towards a society where progress and inter-ethnic community building can thrive, and peace can be sustained. And the series has had an impact on children off-screen as well.
“I always thought I was a super-hero” said 12-year-old Teo from Pristina, who at the launch of the “Superheroes” series in Pristina. “I finally had the opportunity to prove it to myself.”
Tara, who was also part of the show, agrees. The idea of being part of bringing community change – on TV and off it - impacted her in a big way.
"During the Y-Hero recording I had a wonderful time and it was a beautiful experience for me to be part of such an inspiring series, which entails strong messages," she said. "I'd change the world only by taking care of our things and the earth because if we each one of us take care of the earth, for the earth it means a lot."
UNMIK Youth Advisor Jana Minochkina explains that the project aims to spread messages of hope and motivate positive action across generations. “Through community action and solution-focused storytelling, the youth can come together to spread positive messages of change throughout Kosovo – teaching not just their own generation but also adults in a fun and informative way,” she said.
“The fact that children across Kosovo communities worked with one another to build friendships and tackle shared problems for all of Kosovo is a testament to what the youth can achieve when barriers are broken; peace and cohesion is sustained. The youth are the superheroes of today, and of tomorrow,” added Minochkina.
Each episode carefully challenged stereotypes, empowered community work and fuelled friendships amongst teenagers from different communities.
This has been true for the group of young volunteers. Elmedin, 12, from the K-Egyptian community in Fushë Kosovë/Kosovo Polje, says they stay in touch after the completion of filming on snapchat and Instagram, and the experience of working with children across communities was a wonderful, otherwise unlikely, learning experience for them all.
“Seeing the passion and the drive among these kids, to work with topics that we as a society tend to forget, was amazing and made the whole filming process a great experience,” said Director Dina Morina, emphasising the need for more such initiatives, especially for the youngsters across Kosovo communities.
The series has aired on Kosovo’s public television RTK1 since July and can be found on YMCA Kosovo's social media platforms.