Focusing on putting the final piece of the marshmallow on top of another, a young debater is slowly talking with another member of the team, as she tries not to shake and break the marshmallow tower that they are building. “We did it!” – they all shriek with excitement, as the final piece of the marshmallow tower is put in place and it stays there. These and other activities are what we call “Bonding and teamwork” activities. They help create new friendship links between people who have never met before – a crucial factor considering that they all have to complete a community project as the final phase of being a debater in the Club.
“I never thought team-working would be this hard, but it is good that I learned new skills on how to handle different situations. I like it here and to be around my peers, who are really committed to improving our communities by actually doing something ourselves. It feels empowering” – says a young debater as she works through with her team on a list of problems that they have identified.
Right now, there are more than 350 young debaters, spread in 12 clubs (12 schools in 6 municipalities), which have set up Debate Clubs – places where volunteers learn new skills and also try to make a positive impact, to make things better, for their fellow youth and their communities as a whole. Now in the second season – autumn – they are working together to find the real problems of their peers and try to fix them with real, hands-on solutions. While the first season of the Debate Club program focused on them analyzing and researching local problems and then presenting them to elected Municipal representatives – with the aim of making them act on their well-thought demands, the second season (autumn) will focus more on them actually doing the work. The activities are facilitated by our mentors, who provide logistical and technical support to Club leaders on properly running the Club.
“Our young debaters are steadily learning new skills and becoming more vocal with their demands to improve their communities. They’re really putting a lot of effort into doing the work, and some are even taking leadership roles of their Clubs – which shows that they’re feeling confident to lead the change. Young people want to be part of the decision making process, as they directly affect their livelihoods
From conversations with school directors and Municipal officials, they seem satisfied with the progress that they’re seeing in these young debaters. Both of them are stakeholders in this project, where the schools provide the logistical support – places of meeting and other needs, while the Municipalities provide the financial support to these Debate Clubs.
As young debaters move from working with marshmallow towers to real-world problems, it is exciting to see the creative solutions that they will come up with, in making their communities better.
Debate Clubs are part of the project “Let’s Debate Change” funded by Swiss organization Solidar Suisse and implemented by TOKA.