I was fifteen and sitting in history class when a group of young people entered the classroom. They were only a couple of years older than I was at that time. They asked us whether we thought we had the power to change the world for young people and then introduced a project called the Dutch National Youth Debate. I knew two persons of that group. Sharisa was attending the same ballet and jazz classes and Kamran had attended the same secondary school. I was impressed by their energy, enthusiasm and eloquence. And I was always in for extracurricular stuff.
I went to the Provincial Youth Debate, got selected for the National Youth Debate, was trained with 140 other youngsters in presentation and debating skills and we made a proposal to actively involve youth in the EU. I was democratically elected by my peers to be a spokesperson and went to the Dutch parliament in The Hague to tell the then minister Johan Remkes what Dutch youth thought about the European Union. I had the time of my life and when it ended, I was longing for more. “Young people are capable of bringing about change!” we found out to our surprise. I wanted to give other youngsters that same empowering and fun experience. And I wanted to continue to be part of this movement of positive and talented young people. The group was very diverse and the atmosphere was one of acceptance. I had found my peers. It felt like home.
After that, I began facilitating and training for the Dutch National Youth Debate and other projects of the Dutch National Youth Council. What followed was more than a decade of involvement in a variety of projects and in different roles.
Another turning point came around age nineteen, when I was in law school. Many asked what my purposes were especially because my volunteering took so much of my time and because that ‘other career of mine’ was so different from studying law. By that time, I was training youngsters in juvenile detention facilities and other closed institutions. I experienced differences between law in the books and law in action and decided to dedicate my bachelor thesis to a legal sociological study on the right to participation for young people in juvenile justice institutions.
It was then that I stumbled upon the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC). It has been the basis and framework for my work ever since. It helps me framing and addressing the realities of children and youngsters. Those realities are, nevertheless, still my starting point for any project I undertake.
In 2014 I graduated cum laude from my Masters in Legal Research at Utrecht University. I specialized in international children’s rights and legal anthropology and wrote my thesis on indigenous children who migrate from Panama to Costa Rica to harvest coffee. I found my niche, combining all my personal interests. I use a variety of skills and tools obtained through my academic and non-formal education: project development and coordination, research, training and facilitation.