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Peace Corps Working with Youth: Approaches For Volunteers | 2002 (Reprint July 2010) M00067 Part 1 of 2

Peace Corps Working with Youth: Approaches For Volunteers | 2002 (Reprint July 2010) M00067 Part 1 of 2

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Peace Corps Working with Youth: Approaches For Volunteers | 2010 M00067

Working With Youth Part 1
Peace Corps Working with Youth: Approaches For Volunteers | 2010 M00067

Working With Youth Part 1

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09/23/2014

So, what does it take for young men and women to progress through the stages
of development and grow into competent and caring adults? It is helpful to re-
member that basic human needs of food, clean water, clothing, shelter, safety,
and security have to be met. Like so much of development, these things do not
necessarily precede or follow any particular asset but arise out of the complex
interactions of people, families, and communities. Some are deliberately pursued
and won and some are dividends of increases in fnancial, material, and human
resources, education, and self-confdence. We are not addressing basic human
needs. They are important but beyond the scope of Working With Youth.

In this section and in this manual, we focus attention on those assets that are
related to building relationships and increasing individual strengths. These are
the assets that surround those young men and women who reach adulthood
healthy and prepared to become responsible citizens and family members.

Experts in a variety of felds have, in the last 10 to 20 years, been exploring
asset-based (strength-based) ways of doing individual and community de-
velopment. This approach emphasizes examining strengths and identifying
what works. It has been demonstrated in the lab and feld that people often live
up to the expectations of the outsider coming in to assist them. If an outsider
looks for positive aspects, this expectation will be met; if this person looks for
negatives, so too will this expectation be met. One group of theorists in this
“strength-based school” stresses that the act of asking questions infuences the
group and the outcomes. Therefore, according to this theory, if the goal is to
improve a situation and leave it stronger, one should always start positively. The
program manager of the youth project in Tonga noticed a dramatic increase in
receptiveness to the Peace Corps by the local people when staff and Volunteers
entered a community and started by asking what all the “good stuff” was.

Taking an asset- or strength-based approach does not mean ignoring or denying
problems. Youth all over the world face a range of problems that may need to
be addressed directly, especially when there is an immediate risk of physical
or mental harm.

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Part Two: Creating Credibility, Addressing Sustainability, and Building Capacity

Peace Corps

39

Building on the strengths of individuals, organizations, and communities can
help prevent problems and can help overcome them in combination with spe-
cifc problem-focused solutions. What does this mean about how we approach
the daily task of youth work? Let’s say that you are concerned that youth in
your host community are becoming involved with drugs. An asset-based way
to address this problem might begin by helping young people recognize the
gifts they have. You might then encourage them to look for ways to use these
gifts, and develop others, in service of their goals and aspirations. You might
do this by organizing a life skills workshop as part of your primary project, or
by engaging youth in your neighborhood in conversations about their future.
Removing obstacles such as drug abuse, if they exist, can become part of your
discussions with youth, along with offers of support and referral for those who
may need it. In this case, the problem is dealt with as an obstacle to the higher
goals of being positively engaged in the pursuit of a positive future.

Other international youth-focused organizations, such as the International Youth
Foundation, embrace the focus on asset-based approaches. They have urged
those working with young people to move beyond defning them in terms of their
problems and academic competence. They have given us the “banner” phrase
“Problem free is not fully prepared.” They advocate saturating neighborhoods
with services, supports, and opportunities to provide young men and women
with consistent, caring people; safe, structured, and stimulating places; and a full
range of options for training, exploring, and contributing.37

On the individual
level, they stress promoting connectedness, competence, confdence, character,
and contribution in young people.

You can learn more about this strength-based approach during your Peace Corps
service by participating in the Project Design and Management Workshop.

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