This year we are exploring the topic of safe spaces and are encouraging our members and friends to think about how we can ensure that our activities create safe spaces for rural youth to be themselves. This blog post is by RYEurope alumni Emma Ilmonen, current summer trainee at the Finnish 4H.
Safe space is a concept that I think everyone can relate to on some level. It doesn’t necessarily mean a particular physical place, but the people you are with. It’s a space where you feel accepted, you feel like you belong, where there is no judgement and where you are treated with respect. It can also be a classroom, a club meeting, basically anywhere.
Especially during the current pandemic and as we move into our new normal, it’s extremely important to feel safe. Good communication that is free of judgement has prevailed in many organisations over the last few months and, as a result, for RYEurope and for many others, the safe space has gone online.
Personally, for me this spring was hard with my studies. All of it was remote studying and online working. My teachers didn’t know how to go through the courses online. Most of them gave us essays and assignments to cover the physical lessons. So, with my minor studies on the side, my to-do list kept growing. However, normally I would have been in the city where my university is; 400 kilometres away from my family and it helped that I had a chance to stay home. I kept connected with my friends online. We could ‘complain’ together and it made the burden a little bit lighter when I knew I wasn’t in this alone.
Feeling safe also means feeling connected. A great way to do so, which I guess everyone have tried at this point, is to have zoom calls, Facetime and WhatsApp calls with the people you care about. The meaning of online gatherings really got off the ground after covid-19 started. It’s a good way to keep connected and to physically stay safe. Especially for rural youth, it’s much easier when you don’t need to drive tens of kilometres to get to the meetings. Even though face to face meetings are better than a video call, you still can make the best out of virtual meetings.
Here are few ideas I have tried: do yoga or meditation sessions with your friends, do online challenges, cook together, have dinner together. Even though everything is online and you can’t meet up with people, you don’t have to stay home alone. Do walks while you’re talking to friends or make a fashion show with a friend group. The sky is the limit; come up with new things to do together while separated. Just remember, let everyone do their thing and accept them as they are.
The new normal has indeed been a learning experience. Digital platforms have become even more invaluable when almost every event and activity has been cancelled. In some organisations and companies, remote working is probably going to stay. It saves time and money, again: especially for the people in the rural areas. Personally I got to be with my family the whole spring as all my studies were online. This made me feel safe (and out of reach from the corona virus since we live in the middle of forests and fields).
Last but not the least, I’m challenging you to say to someone that you care about them, that you love them and that you accept them as they are.
P.S. If you are interested in learning more about what some of RYEurope’s member organisations are doing to help others to create a safe space, listen to the latest Rural Voices podcast!