“By foreigners and for foreigners”: Youth Included promotes migrant youth integration in Prague

Youth Included, a grassroots organization founded in 2013, has been providing opportunities and support for migrant youth in Prague. Managed by foreigners for foreigners, the organization aims to bridge the language gap and create a sense of belonging and community for individuals seeking to explore their talents, engage in projects, and integrate into Czech society.

Ekaterina Kokkalou | Photo: Youth Included

Back in 2009, right after moving to Prague from Russia, Ekaterina Kokkalou started volunteering for different education-related organizations. Within a year, she joined the NGO sector in the city, and it wasn’t long before she decided to start a grassroots organization herself. By 2013, Youth Included had become a reality, Ekaterina explains:

“It’s quite unique because it’s managed by foreigners and for foreigners. And the reason was that in Czech NGOs, there is one very interesting specificity, that it's always just in Czech, so that was the reason behind our organization. We wanted to have the possibility to open this world of NGOs to locals who don't speak Czech. First Youth Included’s official language was English, and from 2018-2019 Russian also became an official language. This was also a big deal now because of the influx of refugees.”

Photo: Youth Included

Initially, the organization operated as a volunteer-based entity, but in 2018, Youth Included was able to transition to a paid team through a project-based approach that is still in use today.

“So currently, we have local projects here in Prague, and they are mainly for refugees.  So Czech courses, psychological support, and a very big line of possibilities to engage in activities in order to boost your self-development, boost your self-confidence and become detached from the biggest problems of the last two years.

“And we also have international projects, with English as an official language, and they can be joined by all the foreigners who are in Prague.”

Artistic Nomads project | Photo: Youth Included

By organizing both kinds of projects, Youth Included aims to be a community that transcends physical locations and focuses on talent development and self-exploration. To Ekaterina, it’s mostly about creating a sense of home and belonging for the young English and Russian speakers arriving in the country. And while the organization is mainly focused on youth, she hopes to be able to expand the help to even younger groups in the near future.

“Now that I have become a mum, I would even call it Child Included. Because the earlier you start, the better. And that is our next direction is to go younger, younger, and younger. The NGO sector just makes you a very open-minded person, so that was the reason to take youth as the main target group. But now we want in the next years to go even younger, to go to teach all these kinds of things to kids when they are in school, maybe even preschool.”

Cooperation with the city council of Prague 14 - one of the organization’s project | Photo: Youth Included

Among the organization’s many projects, most of which are art and creativity-based, Ekaterina is especially proud of “COPE,” which focuses on making psychological support accessible for young people.

“The idea is that it helps to work with symptoms of mental fatigue for youth, after COVID and after Ukraine. We develop a platform with materials, courses, and different possibilities to use psychology as a tool.”

It's projects like this, she says, that have made it possible for the organization to continue its work and give back to the community. Especially in a city like Prague, where -despite the vibrant NGO sector- it can be hard to secure funding as an organization operating with English as its main language.

Despite everything, Ekaterina is hopeful that Youth Included will continue to make a lasting impact on the lives of foreign youth in Prague.

Author: Marina Vidal Rico
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