#YOUTHVOICESWB Campaign Promotes An Even Better Wood Buffalo
As the Wood Buffalo region rebuilds from the 2016 wildfires, the entire community is involved in efforts to create positive change. This includes young people who are sharing their ideas for how to build a better community through the #YouthVoicesWB social media campaign, running Sept. 29-Oct. 27. The campaign invites youth age 14-24* to creatively contribute their views through photography, video, theatre, song, poetry, art, dance, spoken word, collage, prose, etc.; and/or by adding their comments on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter (see www.youthvoiceswb.ca).
#YouthVoicesWB is part of an action research project coordinated by the ResiliencebyDesign (RbD) Research Innovation Lab at Royal Roads University, and funded by the Canadian Red Cross. The project explores, with young people, where youth voice and influence can be strengthened in communities recovering from disaster. Young people connected to local organizations—including the Friendship Centre, the Justin Slade Foundation, 91.1 The Bridge, the Art Foundry, Stepping Stones, the Mayor’s Advisory Council on Youth, Girls Inc., Sekweha, YMCA and others—enthusiastically identified social media as a powerful and valuable resource that is underutilized to promote connection and engagement. Youth named campaign at an Ideas Incubator in May.
#YouthVoicesWB is taking place both online and offline. It includes a dynamic social media campaign on multiple platforms; as well as regional activities that explore youth views through creative arts and connect them to local decision-makers. The campaign specifically runs through October during the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo elections to promote youth voting and the value of youth participation in community policymaking. The campaign will also link to regional youth organizations and offer local wellness connections and support.
Youth are ready to engage in new ways. As Pamela, age 16, explained in a talk she gave at a McMurray Gospel Assembly talent show: “I think how we can make life better in our community, is to be part of our community.” She said this requires both youth being more engaged and adults being more responsive. She wants to move beyond activities that extract youth opinions with little follow-up, towards more meaningful dialogue, engagement, and feedback on decisions that affect youth in the community such as transit, teen drinking and safe spaces for the LGBTQ community.
Engaging youth and connecting them to community decision-making can be challenging as many youth are uncomfortable speaking up in formal settings, or in front of groups. They may struggle to know exactly what to say and to whom. Creative arts activities can support them in forming and expressing their views, and communicating in powerful ways. For instance, the RbD Lab a youth centre staff in Fort McKay and Janvier offered summer photography workshops where youth explored issues of nature, community, education, safety and well-being; hosted community exhibitions; and discussed their ideas with local Council members. They also promoted the value of listening to youth. As one young person said, “If we work together, things will get done right.” Others added, “We are the next generation… the future leaders… our voice matters.”
Across the Wood Buffalo region, youth-centric social profits are supporting the campaign. For example, The District Recording Studio and 91.1 The Bridge worked with eight youth to produce original songs for #YouthVoicesWB; and the Meicholas Art Foundation offered painting nights at The Art Foundry for budding artists to express their views. The success of the campaign is ultimately rooted in youth expressing and championing their voices, opinions and ideas; and decision-makers not only listening but offering meaningful response.
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