Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA), hosted students from Monash University, Melbourne on 9 January 2020 in a one day workshop. The participants from the youth groups like Aman ke Saathi, Malwani Yuva Parishad, City Caravan alumni and Nakshatra engaged in discussions with the youth from Monash University on the issues across countries and brainstormed on the strategies as well as the role of the youth in co-creating better cities and futures. One often learns about world issues through the internet and technology. However, this interaction stood apart because it enabled students to access information based on their own personal experiences which they would not be able to avail by simply resorting to media.
The platform facilitated a lot of meaningful interaction and gave birth to many reflections shared by the students. They opined that cities are becoming increasingly important in today’s day and age. Cities are inhabited by half of the world’s population and serve as hubs for corporations, inducing more migration towards them. The glaring instances of inequality in the development process, which results in the marginalisation of the urban poor, was also highlighted. The students gained an insight into various initiatives undertaken by YUVA to address the issues of various communities.
The nature of the workshop was very engaging and this elicited a lot of participation from the students. They realised that due to the plethora of issues faced by the city dweller such as homelessness, affordable housing, gender based violence, plastic waste and sustainability and problems related to mental health, it was important to not only identify these problems but also to develop strategies to tackle these issues. There was an exchange of knowledge in terms of the youth initiatives in both the countries such as “Spread the smile” working on the topic of mental health,“feed the homeless” and “perform songs for sick children” in Melbourne and initiatives by YUVA like City Caravan, Anubhav Katta and ComplexCity which actively involved the youth. Shruti, a member of YUVA’s youth group Aman ke Saathi shared her reflections-“The 10-day City Caravan program has helped me question things around me, and feel capable to be actively involved”.
The afternoon session comprised of group discussions, followed by presentations on various topics such as homelessness, women empowerment, mental health and environment where students from Monash University and the Mumbai youth interacted with each other to analyse the problem, discuss the potential causes, intervention strategies and the role of the youth in the creation of a better city in the given context.
Through the presentations, the youth highlighted issues that were either similar across cities or were strikingly different in nature and approach. In the case of homelessness, the group brought to light that in Melbourne the main factor for homelessness was economic such as loss of jobs and expensive housing facilities whereas in Mumbai, the indices were also social such as caste, which deprived many people from access to housing. The youth felt that mental health was a very crucial topic of discussion because many young people were affected by it due to toxic masculinity, family pressures, low self-esteem and influence of social media. They shared how people suffering from mental health issues were stigmatised in Mumbai which prevented them from seeking help which differed from the increasing acceptance towards mental health concerns in Melbourne.
Women’s issues in Mumbai and Melbourne showed a lot of similarities. One of the students from Monash shared her concerns regarding the safety issues of women while travelling-“I feel scared to take the public transport because there have been instances of men stalking me” which was experienced by women even in Mumbai. The students collectively felt that the patriarchal culture and the portrayal of women through media was one of the main reasons for violence against women across the globe. The final presentation was on the rising environmental concerns and climate change which held the same value across both the cities. The increasing urbanisation and population in cities has brought along with it degradation of the environment. Students from both cities highlighted various causes for climate change such as over consumerism in developed countries, resorting to unsustainable practices on a daily basis and destruction of mangroves.
There was a wealth of exchange from both the groups in terms of the interventions in their respective cities to address all these issues such as government schemes, policies and initiatives by non-governmental organisations. One student from Monash shared his observations regarding the difference in the functioning of non-governmental organizations in both the countries-“In Australia, NGOs operate in patchwork. However in India, I observed that many NGOs are working in areas which should actually be the duty of the Government, which is shocking”
The essence of the interaction was for the youth to understand their role in addressing issues which they felt strongly about and take active leadership in their own cities through various initiatives. The groups came up with some interesting strategies that could be undertaken by the youth such as putting pressure on the governments, using social media to spread awareness, connecting with the authorities critically analysing budget policies and imparting education regarding these issues in their communities. One of the students from Mumbai quoted, “When we speak of women empowerment, we must not simply focus on women. It is equally important to sensitise the other genders regarding the issues concerning gender disparity” which was a great value addition in understanding the role of the youth. Another student from Mumbai also raised a very important point of youth empowerment in the rural areas to further the process of village transformation and development.
This workshop not only facilitated a mutual exchange on various issues but also gave a voice to the youth and motivated them to become change agents in their cities and communities. They were amazed to learn about the striking similarities in the problems of inequality within society, homelessness, non-visibility of the urban poor, underrepresentation of youth in Australia and India as well as the glaring differences which were country-specific. The confidence displayed by our Mumbai youth coupled with the active participation of the students from Monash University enriched the process of learning even further. Everyone came to the understanding that these issues are not just city or community-specific but global in nature which required sustained efforts across the globe. The positive feedback shared by the students was an additional confidence booster.
“My time at YUVA opened up a very important conversation between Mumbai and Australian youth. It was inspiring to hear the actions and initiatives taken by the Mumbai youth to fix and provide solutions for nation-wide problems”
“It was amazing to have the opportunity to engage with a group of young people who are so passionate about making a change and hear about their contributions in their own communities. So inspiring!”
“It was very interesting hearing how issues in Mumbai related to those in Melbourne and how the youth in both countries responded to these issues”
On this note, we bid farewell to our friends from Monash University with the promise to engage and ideate on co-creating better cities together.
Shruti Ravi, Intern, YUVA