Two years ago, at “May 25th" High School in Tuzi, Montenegro the students were divided. Diverse languages, religions and ethnicities kept students from communicating or hanging out with those who were different. Cliques formed, and fights often broke out among peers.
“There were so many stereotypes between the students that it created barriers and a lot of misunderstandings,” says Andrijana Paljušević, age 20. “Many different institutions that tried to deal with the problem could not find an effective and long-term solution.”
But Andrijana and four other students decided to do something about it. They applied to participate in the first UPSHIFT Social Impact Workshop organized by the UNICEF-supported Youth Innovation Lab “Kreaktivator”. UPSHIFT creates youth-led social impact programs by providing youth with skills training, financial resources and mentorship.
At first the students did not have a plan for how they would solve the problem. “We just felt that the situation at the school was wrong and wanted to do something about it,” says Andrijana.
PHOTO OF ADRIANA IN BLACK SPEAKING Through UPSHIFT’s three-day workshop the group of students learned techniques and methods to identify the root of the problem in their school and then worked with mentors to develop a solution. In the process, they developed transferable skills for future work, such as critical thinking, communication, problem solving and teamwork.
On the third day, they had to present their project to a panel of judges. Their solution: a diversity fair with a range of events, including movies and sporting events, aimed at bringing the young people together and showing them that they have more in common than they think. Their project ended up winning financial and mentoring support from the Youth Innovation Lab.
In June 2016, their idea came into fruition. To Andrijana’s surprise countless students volunteered to plan the event and more than 400 students took part in the various activities.
“People who were once fighting were now able to be in a same room together to plan the event despite our differences,” she said. “UPSHIFT gave us the spark that we needed to show us what we could do and helped us reach a new level that we may not have found on our own.”
A year later in 2017, Andrijana and her team hosted the second annual “Festival of Diversity” in their school, but instead of support from the Youth Innovation Lab, they managed to organize everything by themselves, including raising financial support from a local non-governmental organization.
UPSHIFT is about giving young people the knowledge, skills and opportunities to become agents of social change. The Lab offers young people the space, tools and programmes that enable them to develop and implement solutions to the challenges they face, as well as gain skills they can use in the future world of work.
GROUP PHOTO IN UNICEF SHIRTS
Today, Andrijana is using the skills – including confidence – she developed from the UPSHIFT workshop in a semester-long cultural exchange programme at American University in Washington D.C. There she is studying political science and hopes to one day work for the United Nations.
“Looking back on the programme, it really changed my life,” she says. “UPSHIFT gave me the freedom to express myself and the confidence to truly believe young people can change their communities for the better.”
“You just need to show people that diversity should not divide us, but rather be a bridge between our hearts