We participate in order to change the system!

Galina speaking at the EU conference on child participation in Bucharest

I recently attended the Bucharest EU Children’s Declaration Conference to present the opinion of the Bulgarian children, as well as to the good policies of the Children’s council - the only national governmental children’s council, working to help the chairperson of the State agency for child protection in Bulgaria.

Children from countries all around the European Union shared a lot of locally-specific inputs, broadening our understanding of how many variations of children/youth participation there could be, but also a lot of universal viewpoints, showcasing the fundamental need to act upon them.

One of the modern-day problems – low voting rates – could be eradicated if children and youth are involved in the life of society...

1. Participation needs to start early

Firstly, the importance of implementing child participation in the earliest stages possible. It was suggested, for example, that children in kindergarten are able to choose their fruit on Fridays. As funny as it may sound, it is an amazing idea. This teaches building opinion and expecting an outcome.

Obviously, with age responsibility and expectations should increase – moving to school, regional and national organizations. One cannot expect citizens to be actively involved in decision making and keep themselves informed if they have been raised in apathy to their surroundings. A state caused by the lack of platformS to share their viewpointS, by the lack of results and therefore trust in their governments. One of the modern-day problems – low voting rates – could be eradicated if children and youth are involved in the life of society and their involvement is legislatively protected, resourced and reaping fruits.   

2. We need structures and mechanisms for participation

There is a need for structures and mechanisms for child/youth participation. They are vital since we need a place to gather periodically and decide on future events, as well as to report all recent results. Furthermore, creating better communication between child/youth organizations making their work more effective, but also systematizing the progress so that it can be useful for future child participants.

In order to set goals and insist on achieving them, we need to ensure that participation is methodical and measurable. We also find it valuable to create an international council and not a conference, summit or event, again because of the reasons mentioned previously.

3. Participation needs to be funded

As a society, we often tend to compare the outcomes of adult versus children led initiatives regardless of the fact that the latter have substantially less budgeting. A recurring issue we have recognized is the lack of adequate funding according to the complexity of the financial plan that children can offer, which in turn provides poor results, wrongly attributed to children’s incapability of carrying out successful projects.

...there is a lack of feedback in the majority of initiatives...

4. Feedback on outcomes and obstacles

We spoke with a lot of specialists, had an expert report on the declaration and a number of governmental representatives, and one of the consistent comments was that they too think there is a lack of feedback in the majority of initiatives. If there are outcomes – a report presented, if there was an obstacle, a debriefing is required to identify and fix that issue.

5. Spread knowledge of child rights

And lastly, we need better, up-to-date advertising of children’s rights, good policies and participation opportunities. Utilizing social media and adapting normative documents to child-friendly language could be one way of informing a larger number of young people about important topics regarding them.

These are only a few of the significant points we as children would like to see improvement in order to build a better Europe.

About me: My name is Galina Valcheva and for all 18 years of mine, I was fortunate enough to call a small mountainside village my home.  If today I am perceived as someone who addresses problems and searches for solutions I would simply point back to my childhood spent playing in the streets to find the reason. Observing the simple living, the raw human connection, the desire to be useful, and the direct sincere talking, had taught me what true humanitarianism is. Me and my friends were very much involved in anything that had to be done since there was always a need for a helping hand. For example, one of my fondest memories is me climbing the ladder, handing nails to my grandfather, who was building our house.

At this point, you may wonder how is that even related to youth participation? Well, the answer is It is exactly what participation is –  to be provided with the opportunity to work with adults, to be able to help build the place you are going to live in, to be an active part of the process.

I am looking forward to continuing my participation as well as studying neuroscience, since I believe understanding the inner world of people better, would help us benefit the outer too.