International Youth Village

The international youth village is designed to host and protect two hundred young refugees without supportive families.

The village will be based on a multifaceted approach to social rehabilitation and on democratic and humanitarian values. It will provide accessible education, opportunities and support for children and youth affected by trauma. It will be a healing environment that opposes their negative experiences, based on individual approach and family education.

The youth will have access to psychological consulting and activities promoting positive behaviors like sports, organic farming and arts. It will focus on establishing a supportive educational framework and restoring hope by protecting the youth.

The model has proven itself in many settings, both in Israel and around the world.

Background and Foundation

According to estimates by the UNHCR (2020), 40% of all refugees worldwide are children – more than 32 million young people. Mostly they flee with their parents or family members, but sometimes, in the chaos of conflict, thousands of children become orphaned or separated from their parents and become unaccompanied minor refugees (UMRs). They are left with no choice but to endure long journeys to safety on their own. Many will spend their entire childhoods away from home. They may have witnessed or experienced violent acts and, in exile, are at risk of abuse, neglect, violence, exploitation, trafficking or military recruitment (UNHCR site, 2023).

Europe has seen a sharp increase in refugees since 2015, including unaccompanied and separated refugee children. In the UNHCR’s Executive Committee Conclusion on Children at Risk (2007) it was acknowledged, that children, because of their age, social status and physical and mental development are often more vulnerable than adults in situations of forced displacement, return to post-conflict situations, integration in new societies, protracted situations of displacement, and statelessness.

Migration, which has increased in the age of globalization, elicits a range of responses from the host countries, ranging from passive tolerance to active support of the newcomers. These responses affect many aspects of public life, most notably education, and the way immigrant youth are being either included or excluded.

Often the response to large numbers of unaccompanied children is to accommodate them in institutions, shelters or, at worst, detention centres, where they do not receive the care, attention and services they require. Children who are inappropriately cared for in such situations not only fail to develop and thrive, but may also run away, making themselves more vulnerable to criminal activities in order to survive (Save the Children Project, 2015).

The UNHCR’s Executive Committee Conclusion on Children at Risk (2007) concluded, among other things, that: Children should be among the first to receive protection and assistance; the principle of the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration in regard to all actions concerning children; the active promotion of gender equality is essential to the protection of girls and boys; promote the provision of alternative care and accommodation arrangements for unaccompanied and separated children; encourage the inclusion of all children in education programmes and strengthen children’s capacities, for girls and boys alike; promote access to post-primary education wherever possible and appropriate, life-skills and vocational trainings for adolescents and support recreational activities, sports, play and cultural activities; and establish and provide access to appropriate psychological support and training programmes as required to prepare children better for social reintegration.

Nevertheless, the 2022 UNHCR Refugee Education Report illustrates how refugee children and youth are falling behind their non-refugee peers when it comes to access to an inclusive quality education. The importance of including refugee children and youth in formal education systems, and of strengthening those systems, cannot be overstated.

When we consider the situation of refugee young people in Germany, we have to take into account that Germany is an immigrant society. About 25% of young people in Germany have a migration background. On the other hand, in some of the districts, especially in East Germany, most people have hardly any experience with immigrants (International Journal of Child, Youth and Family Studies, 2020, 11). The increasing number of refugees that came to Europe, and especially to Germany, in 2015 found the nation unprepared: the influx became a crisis (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge, 2016).

In Germany, discourses about illegal behavior among young refugees are becoming more common (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, 2020). Young refugees are increasingly seen as actual or potential criminals rather than as children with human rights, who often have been victims of severe crimes (Willems, 2020). Research has shown that a number of factors favor or encourage deviant behavior among adolescents (Dollinger, 2018), such as experience of violence, social isolation, lack of resources, and no optimism referring to the future, and it is vital to emphasize that young refugees – especially those who arrive unaccompanied or as young adults – often have had high levels of exposure to these factors. Also, the conditions in the Lager (refugee warehouses) prevent privacy, promote violence and social isolation, cut off resources and, above all, destroy the young refugees’ reasonable hopes for the future (Meinhold, 2019).

Following the refugee crisis in Europe, and the near-collapse of the social services especially in Germany, Struck (2020) recommends to reinstate uniform standards of quality of care for young people, create competence centers — professional facilities focused on supplying all the needs of young refugees, and counteract the increasing exclusion and separation of young refugees. for children, every day counts: they need continual opportunities to grow, to learn, to develop, and to gain confidence about the future. Their lives cannot be paused. Therefore, it is imperative that the child and youth welfare system fight for the children and young people’s right to every single day of their lives.

In 2018, the Global Refugee Compact, an international agreement that sets the building blocks for a stronger, more predictable and more equitable international response to large refugee situations, was created. The four key objectives of the Compact are: to ease pressures on host countries; increase refugee self-reliance; expand access to resettlement and other solutions; and support conditions in countries of origin for refugees to return in safety and dignity, and it recognizes that children are central to migration management.

Residential care, which is known to be a powerful social instrument, is often used by societies for solving complex problems of children and young people. While many countries consider residential care an alternative of last resort, in Israel, these structural features of residential care institutions have been used for supporting young immigrants experiencing difficulties during the most crucial stage of the cross-cultural transition process and are particularly sensitive to the needs of multicultural youth populations (Grupper, 2013).

The Youth Village is a unique Israeli model for raising youngsters, which come from extremely challenging backgrounds, whether child refugees and new immigrants who arrived in Israel alone, or antisocial delinquents and children from broken homes. They act as an educational facility and care home rolled into one; a cross between a European boarding school and a kibbutz, the legendary collective villages (Ives and Naftali, 2022).

The kibbutz movement, which represented a new way of voluntarily chosen community life, provided the model for the creation of youth villages, based on shared living of youth and adults in a small and integrated educative community (Grupper, 2008).

The youth villages in Israel provide the youths with the therapeutic intervention needed to heal and flourish. The social and educational intervention provided enables youngsters to cope with integration difficulties, to break the cycle of poverty, and to become contributing members of society (Ives and Naftali, 2022).

The fact that young people live together and are supervised 24 hours a day in a well-designed environment and by modelling on the part of the staff, is a very powerful stimulation for them to achieve behavioral changes. This kind of environment is particularly important for migrant young people who are looking for clues to overcome their marginal status, which is the starting point in their cross-cultural transitional process (Grupper, 2013). As an example, Grupper (2013) presents the integration of Ethiopian youth in such youth communities, where many of these young people came to Israel in the 1980s without their parents, and the youth villages were, in many respects, their first home in Israel.

The youth village in Israel attempts to serve both educational needs and provide rehabilitation for those requiring it, by creating a stimulating environment that can empower each young person (Grupper, 2008). Students who require professional emotional guidance, care, or even therapy, receive it on an individual basis, while all other aspects of their life are lived as part of a completely normative environment.

The Empowerment of youth is a major goal in the youth village and is gained, among other things, through their active enrolment in leadership activities through which they experience responsibility taking, and also the rewards of successfully accomplishing different kinds of social activities. These include volunteer work in neighboring communities such as helping elderly people, coaching young children, and performing in ceremonies and festivities of the larger community (Grupper, 2013). Although originally exclusively agriculture-focused, the villages quickly evolved into vocational and art schools focused on a wide range of disciplines (Ives and Naftali, 2022). These diverse activities build the positive self-image of young people and can also have an important impact on reducing the negative stigma, and even creating a positive public opinion, toward members of the residential youth community (Grupper, 2013).

The ethos of these institutions can best be summed up in their vision statement: “Every child can; every child deserves; in every child lies the raw potential to succeed; every child deserves an equal chance.” (Ives and Naftali, 2022).

One of the iconic youth villages, and the first of it’s kind, that has had a major national and international impact is Yemin Orde in Israel. It was founded in 1953 by the British Friends of Youth Aliyah and named for British Major General Orde Charles Wingate, an ardent British supporter of the Zionist cause and influential force in the formation of the Israel Defense Forces. The youth village welcomed Holocaust orphans rescued from, or survivors of, Nazi atrocities and immigrant children who arrived in the new country during the great immigration waves in the early years of the State. At Yemin Orde, they found a home, a family, and a future. The youth village is now a home, school, and safe haven to 440 victims of abuse, orphans and refugees, as well as impoverished or at-risk children and youth from all over the world, including Muslim refugees from Darfur. It provides a warm and positive environment that counteracts the negative influence of the underprivileged neighborhood or dysfunctional background from which they come. It also offers a supportive educational framework and a range of extracurricular activities that would be otherwise unavailable to them, but which they need, in order to overcome their challenges. One of Yemin Orde’s most unique and valuable features is the way it is structured to serve as a “home” to these young people: They are clustered into “families,” each with a loving “mother,” and live to the fullest extent possible as one would expect in a normal domestic environment. Unlike many residential institutions that house residents in large complexes that contain the classrooms and dormitories, at Yemin Orde the school is a full five minutes from the homes – resembling much more closely a regular community. The aim, according to Yemin Orde’s legendary former leader Chaim Peri, was to “deinstitutionalize the institution.” This prepares them to be responsible and caring adults (Ives and Naftali, 2022).

Following the success of Yemin Orde, the youth village model spread throughout Europe and beyond. The youth village model has become an important model for providing care and support for at-risk children and adolescents, and continues to evolve and adapt to meet the changing needs of their communities, serving a variety of populations, including youth who have been in foster care, are involved in the juvenile justice system, or have experienced homelessness or other forms of instability. Today, youth villages can also be found in countries around the world, including Germany, Switzerland, USA, Japan, India, South Africa, Romania, Mexico, and Peru.

An example of an admirable youth village, modelled after Yemin Orde, is the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village (ASYV) in Rwanda, founded by philanthropist Anne Heyman in response to the orphan crisis caused by the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi, which left thousands of orphaned children. The name Agahozo-Shalom refers to where “tears are dried” (from the Kinyarwanda word “agahozo”) and where vulnerable youth can “live in peace” (from the Hebrew word “shalom”). The village is now home to 500 young people who live in “families” – 16 to a house, with a house mother or father, and big sister or brother. They get a top education, dedicated healthcare and emotional support. Several times a week, the youth leave the village to help in the surrounding villages, learning that the good life always involves giving back (Ives and Naftali, 2022). According to Forbes Magazin (2022), ASYV boasts a 97 percent passage rate on Rwanda’s National Exam and alumni success stories in Rwanda, the UK, and the United States.

According to Ives and Naftali (2022), unlike the common but sad reality that at-risk children are prone to leading a life of exclusion, dropping out of school or turning to crime, a 2007 study by the School of Social Work at the University of Haifa found that nine out of ten Yemin Orde graduates consider themselves satisfied or very satisfied with their lives. Their students go on to exceed the national average for time spent in the education system, and also overachieve when joining the army. Grupper (2013) joins in and states that empirical evidence has shown that youth villages have a great potential for enhancing immigrant youth’s absorption and for facilitating their integration in the host society.

What began as a rescue operation to save Jewish youth from Nazi Germany has evolved into a highly effective network that is transforming the lives of displaced children all over the World.

 Conclusion

The plight of refugee youth is a pressing issue that requires urgent attention and action. With millions of young refugees streaming into Europe, it is imperative that steps are taken to ensure their safety and well-being, including providing them with access to education.

The UN Sustainable Development Goal 10 advocates the reduction of inequality within and among countries and supports initiatives for building the capacity and resilience of refugee communities, especially youth, to help break the cycle of poverty and exclusion.

No one should suffer from discrimination, or be denied equal access to opportunities on the basis of race, gender, religion, disability, culture or family background. Unless this is addressed, another UN Sustainable Development Goal – number 4, which states, “…to ensure inclusive and equality quality education and promote lifelong learning for all”, will not be fulfilled.

Young refugees need opportunities to take responsibility and to identify themselves with their home villages and new communities. They need opportunities to influence their environment and their society.

The high influx of migrants has challenged the welfare states of most of the European countries in keeping their high standard of social support and maintaining the quality of professional social work interventions. This urgently calls for alternative solutions. Therapeutic Residential Care is still a rare form of residential child and youth care. The Opening Doors Children Campaign (2020) claims that, in order to develop to their potential, children need the love, care and attention of a family. Emotional support is essential for normal brain development and children need a caregiver and an environment responsive to their needs.

The ethos of community life, as practiced in Israeli youth villages, where young people and their educators live together, creates optimal opportunities for developing young people’s sense of belonging, first to the inner peer-group circle, later to the youth community, and, hopefully, leading them toward adulthood as people who feel committed and emotionally belonging to their family, community, and to society at large (Grupper, 2013). It supports young people to prepare for their independence.

In the case of refugees, it is an investment in the people who will rebuild their countries of origin, or greatly contribute to their host countries, when they are able to safely return home. Investing in the education of refugee children and youth is a collective task with far-reaching collective rewards: Quality, equitable education is closely linked to positive economic and social development, as well as more peaceful co-existence between communities. It will contribute to a more harmonious and resilient world. It will close that yawning gap between talent and opportunity. On the other hand, the costs of failing to do so will be immense (UNHCR, 2022).

It is important that we do not turn a blind eye to the struggles of refugee youth. By taking action and working together to create a youth village, based on the principles and models we mentioned in this review, we can provide them with the support they need to feel safe, a sound education and the skills with which they will feel empowered. We will help the refugee youth build their lives in a healthier manner, giving back to their communities and strengthening them in return.

By investing in the well-being and success of young refugees, we can help build a brighter future for all.