Meet Vukovar 365, Full of Life – PRONI Centre for Social Education

Katarina Anđelković

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Though their name and title might seem a little ambiguous, a quick visit to their website has the word youth stand out more than anything else. This is quite indicative of what PRONI stands for and what they have been doing for over 20 years. With their primary focus on youth work, which includes working directly with teens and young adults aged 18-30, as well as working with trainers and educators who are involved in such work, the main goals of the centre are the improvement of quality of life of the youth and their social awareness and inclusion. Primarily through EU social programs, in PRONI they have partnered up with the relevant institutions to promote informal youth education, mobility, and volunteer work as the modern values and ways of achieving everyone’s full potential.

We spoke to Goran, PRONI’s youth director, who told us all about what PRONI does and what the youth in Vukovar still need.

What is PRONI, how long has it been here, and what is it that you do daily?

PRONI was first officially registered in 1998, which means that we have been going strong for well over 20 years now. With our first office in Vukovar, we also opened offices in Osijek and in Sisak. The one in Sisak, unfortunately, had to be closed, but we did spend a good 15 or so years working there as well. Our focus is on direct work with the youth regardless of their status (students, unemployed, employed, etc.). This means that we also work with youth workers and institutions, including city councils, schools, and other organisations involved in social work. We are currently running 16 projects and our days are packed full of activities. We are hosting 2 Erasmus participants here in Vukovar, who spend their days volunteering, studying, and learning Croatian!

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What are your long-term goals?

Our mission is to improve the quality of life of the youth through opportunities to develop their skills, abilities, and competencies. We strive to achieve this through practical work in volunteering and social projects, as well as their inclusion in a so-called structured dialogue. More precisely, in cooperation with the city council of Vukovar and through the input we receive directly from the youth, we implement the city youth program. The program does not consider the cultural and entertainment aspect of life, but also employment opportunities, education, and public facilities to provide nurture hobbies and interests.

How do you reach the youth of Vukovar?

PRONI and its friends have a way of discovering each other. We have set up an info centre for them to easily reach us on social media or in our physical space where we always keep our doors open and the atmosphere warm and welcoming. We try to stay on top of social media and follow the trends and reach our audience across all the trending platforms. We have set up our little corners in schools as well and have engaged teachers to be our ambassadors. The students themselves also spread the word quite effectively, as they really enjoy many of our activities and are excited to come back with friends.

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What are the main projects of the Vukovar branch right now, what makes you proud?

The dialogue that we have successfully established between the youth in our city and the city council is something that we are quite proud of. The long-term results of our work are also starting to show, which is one of the most rewarding aspects of our work. Our Youth Advisory Board serves for better information exchange and resource networking with all the relevant institutions. As I mentioned, this includes the city council, the national employment office, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the local library and more. Possibly the best thing that has come out of our initiatives was the organic and spontaneous formation of School Volunteering Clubs where students are the managers and planners. They enjoy autonomy, and it keeps them motivated to keep learning, developing, and connecting.

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Which groups would you like to invite for better cooperation?

Firstly, I would like to say that we are very thankful for our partners and all the amazing work that we have done together so far. We do not lack institutional support in the physical sense, but we do think that the school curriculum should follow suit. Schools should work a lot more on encouraging critical thinking, activism, quality management of free time. Students do not have enough autonomy when it comes to extra-curricular activities where they are often offered what is available based on the teachers’ schedules and not on their interests. Schools should also be involved in, or at least promote informal education a lot more.

Is Vukovar a good place for the youth, how do your foreign volunteers perceive it?

Of course, Vukovar is excellent! It is quite small but practical. All the facilities are easily available and often within walking distance. The standard is still much cheaper than in a lot of other European cities and thanks to PRONI’s unique position in the city, there are a lot of things that we can provide for free. Our volunteers find it interesting, though different, usually coming from much bigger cities. The main things that they like about Vukovar include feeling safe, secure, and accepted. They also find that sometimes things here seem a lot simpler than in their home countries. They are excited to visit, and they leave fulfilled and happy. Another great thing for our foreign volunteers is that everything we do is integrated and we provide them with additional activities and free language courses.

What message would you like to send?

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Just that we are here and that what we provide should be used. Youth exchange is a wonderful thing and possibly one of the most enriching experiences in life. In our areas, it is still unknown and not promoted enough. Sometimes there is a fear of this unknown, but everyone should know that the process has become very smooth, and I would like to encourage young people to step forward and grab the opportunity to learn and travel.

For more, check out our lifestyle section 


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