In Lorca, Spain, we have the youth center M13 where we used to meet with young people and we do a lot of activities: painting, creating, playing, cooking, learning Spanish and also learning values and soft skills. This center is located in the neighborhood “San Cristóbal” with a lot of migrant population, so the M13 has been a place of interculturality and new opportunities to know different people, socialize and learn. With the pandemic, the center was closed and we needed to learn new ways to connect with young people and to continue our youth work and spread our message of peace and anti-racism.
Everything started quite fast.
One day we were talking about how paranoid is to speak about COVID-19 to parents because we are taking their children to Montpellier for a mobility project and few weeks after all of us were locked up, fighting a war against an invisible enemy.
The day we closed the youth center everybody got very sad, although we tried to tell everyone that this was going to be for a little while, we actually had no clue of what the future was going to be like. Once at home everybody tried their best to put up with the anxiety and the stress, some of us made a huge effort to keep in touch with the young people who used to come to the youth center and started inventing challenges and participating in others. The objectives were filling the empty spaces during the day, feeling busy, staying in touch with each other and not get too worried about the tragedy that was happening around us. Of course there was a lot to worry about, but staying as focused and as calm as possible (while social distancing) was the most useful thing we could come up with to do our part in such a moment.
With this state of mind, we thought of a drawing challenge for the youth center’s Instagram account and our Facebook Page: for 15 days, we asked everybody who felt like getting a bit creative to draw something about one specific theme (day 1 – “draw something that makes you happy”, day 2 – “your favorite flower”, day 3 – “self portrait”, …), then they could send us the picture or directly post it with the hashtag #drawingchallengem13, so we could repost everything and make people see each other’s artworks. This activity was inspired in the famous Inktober challenge and it was a big success: many youngsters reached out saying that it really made them feel connected and gave them some fun. After that we collaborated with EVS/ESC and local volunteers to design other activities, so they came up with a magical “Rodari challenge” (based on Gianni Rodari’s fantastic hypothesis  and storytelling), a set of funny riddles, a video class for playing guitar, a week-long activity on Instagram about diversity in cinema and some group calls with some of the young people who were already quite involved in our projects, to do karaoke and just gather among friends.
Some of us actually recognized that having to think about the kids and the community, made them forget for a while that we were locked up ourselves.
Is digital youth work for everyone?
To tell the truth, many of us were reluctant to use digital tools in our activities before the pandemic.
The new situation meant we had to adapt and we did so in the best way we could.
Just to draw some context: the person writing these lines has never been able to finish an online course before March 2020; to date, after facilitating at least three trainings, countless activities and attending many as participant as well, the same person recognizes that digital youth work has a huge potential. Through online activities we could reach out many young people all over the world and still, thank to them we are actually getting through these strange times. Certainly this was a big struggle for many educators and it is thanks to the international youth work community and the incredible support we gave each other that we were able to grow and adapt.
From the work of scholars such as the ethologist and primatologist Frans de Waal, or the psychologist and anthropologist Michael Tomasello, we know that “in nature, competition, and the consequent victory of the fittest, is not the only possible and expected solution”, and that cooperation and empathy have generated survival and developed over time. Their theories and studies reflect quite well the dynamics behind our adaptation to non-formal online education, as well as the effort of some of our colleagues to include those youngsters who face incredible difficulties in order to get online and actually participate in activities.
If we move online we should all do it together, right? We think so, at least.
Are you feeling comfortable in the “new normality”?
Moving on with our story we arrive at the end of the first state alert and the consequent end of the 99-day quarantine in Spain: 21 June 2020. This partial lifting of the state of alert will continue until 25 October 2021. Between various individual quarantines, localised waves of new cases and local perimeter closures, the summer passed with the attempt of rescuing the tourist and hostelry sector, which had suffered so much from the closures and the measures taken to curb the contagions.
Everybody needed some fresh air after so long, but not everybody felt so safe with new measures. Public opinion was very divided on what to do and there was no lack of (more or less) well-founded tensions and fears in the public discourse.
Frustrations exacerbated already existing tensions in the community, to which was added the masses’ need for scapegoats and targets. The media, it must be admitted, have sometimes failed to live up to their informative and formative role, contributing on certain occasions to increased aggressiveness in the discourse.
At times there was a very equivocal double standard in communication with respect to the border entrances: while on one hand we complained that there were not enough international tourists and that the coasts were suffering, in fact trying to secure movement between states and inviting locals to be patient in the name of economic salvation, on the other hand we pointed out that migrants were continuing to arrive from the Mediterranean and that, so obviously, part of this collective gave a positive to the PCR test.
The newspaper El Mundo made many people speak out after titling one of its articles ‘El 1,5% de los inmigrantes que llega en patera a la costa andaluza, positivo en Covid’ (1.5% of immigrants arriving in patera boats to the Andalusian coast, positive in Covid’): was it really more important underlining that the 1,5% gave a positive, rather than saying that 98,5% of the people who got tested gave a negative result? If youth workers could do anything about this, it surely was to work on critical thinking with young people.
Racism didn’t self-quarantine. What should we do about it?
In August 2020, racism and inequality did not go on holiday, nor were they quarantined. Two events in particular affected the community of Lorca, with whom we usually work. A 42-year-old man died shortly after being abandoned outside the emergency room of a health centre. He was left there, unconscious, by a van which then drove away. The victim, who was working as a watermelon picker, was in an irregular situation and was not registered with the Social Security. The workers’ unions denounce the non-compliance of the companies, «which do not provide their staff with fresh drinking water or canteens where they can protect themselves from the inclement weather, and which even fail to comply with the full-time working day, with the aggravating circumstance of being warned of the high temperatures that would occur during these days».
Not even three weeks afterwards, Pedro Sosa, a politician from Lorca, went to call attention to a group of young people who were throwing stones at the home of a Moroccan family in the San Cristobal neighbourhood and who were also being the target of insults and xenophobic messages. Unfortunately, in the attempt of defending the family he got injured and beaten, too.
These cases reignited the debate on racism and xenophobia in a city where many different national communities live together and where coexistence and respect between cultures is fundamental. While the loss of George Floyd was still being mourned all over the world and preparations were being made in Washington for the anti-racist march on 28 August, Lorca was also counting victims and injuries.
Thinking out of the isolation
The facts mentioned did not go unnoticed by the youth community (especially the segment most sensitive to political and social changes), and quite a few spoke of the frustration they felt at perceiving that they were not doing enough, or not knowing how to do political activism in such an extraordinary situation as the pandemic. As a team, in Cazalla Intercultural we decided to make an open call via our channels: were there young people interested in forming a group of volunteers to develop forms of citizen participation to fight against racism at local level?
We received a dozen of answers and a whatsapp group was set, soon afterwards the first group call was organized and those were the first steps of LCR – Lorca Contra el Racismo (Lorca Against Racism). We used the tools that we learnt to deal with for our trainings in order to support the creative process of these youngsters. A beautiful padlet full of ideas served as a mean for boosting participation and commitment, some online energizers proved that we could laugh together as well as share deep and personal thoughts about living with or without certain privileges, …and much more!
The group was (and still is, up to date) quite mixed in terms of racial representation, age group and origins, and everybody has to adapt to others’ point of views and ways of speak their minds. The volunteering base of this group also meant that for some weeks there could be a very low participation and/or we had to face some last minute drops out or that people could join us after a very creative week and we had to explain everything from the beginning, taking into account the new volunteer’s point of view. Quite challenging, but also very rewarding.
Vi-Cul: a campaign about culture and representation.
After organizing an activity about the construction of prejudices and stereotypes around gender and cultural diversity with Professor Paloma Fernández-Rasines,
the group experienced a low-energy moment and there most of the youngsters expressed the need for a presential activity, so we decided to go for a creative writing workshop with the objective of coming up with slogans for a campaign on culture and representation. That’s how “Vi-Cul” was born.
“Vi” stands for visibilidad (visibility, exposure), “Cul” stands for cultura (culture): according to the group, ViCul is a campaign for cultural visibility, interculturality, dialogue and education against racism. One of the volunteers is also a graphic designer and created all the visuals that were used, while the texts were written between everybody in the group. The result is compiled in the Instagram account https://www.instagram.com/vi_cul/ and can be seen in the streets of Lorca, as many posters were printed out and hanged around the city. The campaign is still ongoing: currently, the volunteers are designing the next steps.
Loneliness and participation
The already mentioned M. Tomasello claimed back in 2014 that the human being belongs to an ultra-social species: who knows if this 2020 has done nothing but expand the empirical basis of his claims. What is certain is that these years are putting us to a tough test and that as youth workers we cannot leave alone the young people we are in contact with (especially those who encounter barriers in connecting to the internet and participating in online leisure activities).
With this article, we wanted to share our experience with others who can use it to dynamise their own communities, in the own spirit of collaboration and cooperation that we defend as a tool for resilience and collective growth.
Is participation good for our mental and physical health right now? We don’t have the data to demonstrate this, but it does create supporting networks, makes people feel involved in something, creates a sense of belongingness, distract from the apathy and, in many cases, can create a good change in society, so we feel like saying “could be, yes”.
 Quote from the article “Cooperare è fondamentale. E lo è da sempre” (Cooperation is essential. And always has been) written by Annamaria Testa for Internazionale, Italian newspaper, in February 2021.
 The original article can be found here https://www.elmundo.es/andalucia/2020/11/10/5faae0e4fc6c83d6278b4641.html
 Our translation from Spanish, the original article can the be found here: https://elpais.com/espana/2020-08-02/muere-un-jornalero-tras-ser-abandonado-en-un-centro-de-salud-de-murcia.html#:~:text=Un%20hombre%20de%2042%20a%C3%B1os,salud%20de%20Lorca%20(Murcia).&text=La%20v%C3%ADctima%20trabajaba%20en%20un,a%20disposici%C3%B3n%20judicial%20el%20lunes
 We suggest our readers to get through this insightful article by Nicole Chavez on CNN about USA and Racism during 2020 https://edition.cnn.com/interactive/2020/12/us/america-racism-2020/
 Read the full paper here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4302252/