The impact of youth work in empowering decision making and shaping futures

05/11/2020 – Michael Appiah has a long association with Fight for Peace, he is currently a Youth Worker at our London Academy and was one of the very first Fight for Peace members back in 2007. During Youth Work Week 2020, Michael gives us his thoughts on the vital role of youth work and the importance of having mentors in our lives: 

“The importance of youth work is immense – the impact that you can have on one person’s life is immeasurable. I think that without mentoring and without youth work it can be very detrimental to people’s growth. A lot of young people are told they have so much potential, but if there is no guidance, no focus, no plan, the young person is left asking ‘what do I do with that potential? How do I enhance it, how do I embrace it, how do I channel it into something productive?’

Youth work is not about having a qualification, it’s about being able to empathise with someone’s struggles or someone’s path, or even to sit down with someone and come to an agreement. We are here to advise, educate and point out the various options that are available to young people.

I don’t see youth work as being an older person telling a younger person what to do and what not to do, it’s about being able to sit down with an individual and be able to express or explore the different opportunities that they have in front of them and the outcomes or consequences of each choice that they can make.

I think the explanation part is really crucial because if we tell people what to do without exploring the ins and outs of things I think it can be quite damaging and toxic. Having understanding and having knowledge is power, and so breaking down choices and the benefits and consequences of every single choice and opportunity available gives a young person more knowledge so that, when they are making a decision, they know what they are getting into.

Personally, the things that I have taken away from my mentors I still live by today, and I am 28. For me the word mentor can be used quite loosely. Looking at how people carry themselves and their mindset, if I want to aspire to that then indirectly they are my mentors – whenever I need guidance or I need a viewpoint, I will come to one of those people.

It can be formal, someone that you schedule regular meetings with and also informal where you have people that you aspire to and that push and motivate you. What I tend to find is that the young people that I mentor get more out of the informal conversations that we have here and there, than us trying to build a plan. I see young people engage more when we are passing or just catching up informally and just chatting.

I genuinely don’t think that people appreciate the importance of youth work or the value of it because they are under the impression that school, college and university is sufficient to direct a young person. But these institutions alone can’t support all individuals. When you delve into it, you see that everyone is so different and everyone has struggles that they are dealing with.

If we talk about a community that really cares about its young people, the direction that they go in and the mistakes that they make, then I think youth work should be valued and invested in a lot more. Within our own community here we are seeing changes and progress and I think that we are seeing people change their lives. For me, even if we impact one person that is one person who is going to achieve something amazing, or make the best choices for their future.”