Digit@l Friends – Poland’s First Youth Culture Centre

14 December 2018 /

This interview has originally been published by Euro Babble and is made by Dominik Kirchdorfer.

Digit@l Friends is the first youth café in the Warsaw landscape. They call it a cafe, and others call it a House of Culture 2.0.

I talked to Kamila Wujec, the founder of the new company in Warsaw.

DK: What exactly is Digit@l Friends and what goals do you have?

KW: In fact, our goal is to create a meeting place for young people, which will be a space for recreation, education and development of older children and young people aged 10-20l.

We pay special attention to the fact that the place should serve as a place of local integration of the younger community in Gocław, where the place is located. We dream of creating a true community.

Our proposal is addressed to children for whom there is no free time outside of school and “graphic” extracurricular activities, in principle, no free time outside the home. The reform of education and the overcrowding of schools has only aggravated this situation.

Therefore, we try to fill the gap by offering a safe space in which social bonds are formed among friends, colleagues and neighbors from the housing estate.

Digit@l Friends-Digital Skills & Wellbeing is based on three assumptions:

First of all: children cannot be denied access to the Internet and the use of digital tools. You can only try to encourage young people to use new technologies in a conscious, balanced and responsible way.

We want to show the whole spectrum of opportunities that young people face in the global digital world: scholarships, trips, international online projects, teamwork with other European groups, and all this is available to everyone at any time on their own smartphone. The digital education programme, pointing to innovations in education, following trends in the labour market of the future, but also pointing out the risks and threats of being online today will be the main currents and topics of conversations with young people.

Secondly, in the era of galloping technological development, man must cultivate within himself what distinguishes him from machines. These are sensitivity, empathy, compassion, cooperation, willingness to help, living in harmony with oneself and one’s environment.

In order to develop one’s self-awareness, one needs a space to meet another person and the opportunity to experience.

We believe that it is a loss when we come into contact with this space only in adulthood. Classes will be conducted using different areas, such as drama, attention, improvisation, coaching techniques, art-therapy tools, etc.

Thirdly: from the earliest period of one’s life, a person has a basic need to belong. The adolescence age is particularly difficult because children shape their identity, among other things, by belonging or not belonging to particular groups outside the family home. For our own and all other children, we wish that positive role models flow not only from home and school, but also from other places of social life together. We want to be friends of all the children in the area and to be an invaluable partner for them, to whom you can come and stay.

We will offer regular games on consoles available free of charge in the corner of the games.

We will organize thematic meetings tailored to the different groups of our members, these may be activities for boys, girls, by age group, etc. We will also offer games for children and young people.

It is different for younger children to take part in scrapbooking or tutorials on youtube that teach them how to draw a manga, and it is different for older children to take part in workshops on how to create a podcast, how to make a radio show or how to cut a video, and it is different for “young adults” to take part in a conscious choice of studies, career coaching and so on.

As soon as we find partners we will want to offer electronic music production, and for this we need equipment. Such a result can be published on spotify or soundcloud.

Following this path, we want children to become creators and not consumers of new technologies.

Other planned activities include: creativity workshops, portfolio creation, project groups, team work, working in pairs, communication workshops, etc.

We will also invite guests and experts to interviews with children and parents.

DK: Tell us a little bit about you and why you decided to open this cafe and why in this location.

KW: The history is a bit long and has evolved over time.

I have worked for many years as coordinator of European Voluntary Service projects funded by the European Commission and I have seen excellent results both for the volunteers themselves and for us, the staff accompanying them on this journey, when non-formal learning methods are applied in different contexts. To this day, schools are still focused on processing and consolidating knowledge and not on transferring competences, although it is getting better and more and more projects can also be seen in the curriculum.

Acquisition of competences in places for young people takes place in a natural way and leaves lasting effects, strengthening the development of the participant significantly (meaningful). During this time I became part of a large European network that does great things for and with young people.

In addition, I myself grew up in Berlin, and spent a lot of time as a teenager in an institution called Jugendfreizeitheim, the so-called “youth holiday home”. I have great respect for these institutions.

Traditionally, in many countries, such places are an alternative to spending time at school until parents return from work in the afternoon. School day-rooms are popular places, but they are still organised in the same space, sometimes under the supervision of teachers, i.e. again under the supervision of someone who potentially assesses. We wanted to create a place that would complement this landscape with something new.

I chose Gocław, acting according to: think global, act local. I am a person who always thinks about “big picture”, but you can only start changing the world from yourself and your environment. That’s why I work for “our” children, i.e. my children and the children of my neighbours in my neighbourhood. When I was walking with small children in a wheelchair and now, recently, with our dog, the anthropologist in me was watching closely the children in the area. How they spend their time, what they do on benches, on playgrounds which were not adjusted to their needs, etc., etc. I also thought about my own children, who are almost bored with the playgrounds and start to be interested in games on the phone, we also create a place for them. A safe place, in an atmosphere of respect and among friends.

And so it happened that finally there was an accumulation and I started looking for a place and my dreams and mission turned into concrete actions for me and my husband.

At the turn of January and February our efforts will see the light of day.

DK: how will it work?

KW: From the outside the place looks like a regular cafe, but in fact it is a kind of Culture House 2.0. The interiors are designed to be a space for meetings, recreation and workshops.

When I close my eyes I imagine that young people will come to us after school, with friends, maybe in their free time between lessons, sitting, playing, instructing in the activities that we will propose, maybe they will even propose the activities themselves. And the classes will be adapted to the age group, will be on time and very interesting. I promise! We already have a list of ideas and we are waiting for those that will come from the young people themselves. We do not want to do a program for them, but together with them. That is why this process will continue. We draw our ideas from the experience of international cooperation. We have a network of great contacts in which we want to involve young people, showing them that a distant world is within reach and friendships with other Europeans can be nurtured online. We want to show that there are foreign projects, trips, scholarships. We want to publicise innovations in education and show great examples from the world. Infect with optimism. We will also offer practical experience in the form of a project group, joint tasks of virtual teams as adults do in their professional reality, only adapted to the level of participants.

There will also be space to talk, do homework, play on the console or snack something with friends.

An important aspect of this place is to be the character of the community. We want to create a real local community. Offline and Online. We will offer a club member card for a small monthly fee, which will allow young people to come to Digit@l Friends also without daily cash in their wallets. After all, these are not earning adults. We do not want to exclude anyone. Within the membership they will be able to refresh themselves in the members’ zone with a drink, snack or fruit, take part free of charge in a certain number of workshops in the month and most importantly: they will stay with us in close communication. We will put them in a group chat, they will be the first to learn about the planned program, there will be discounts on their birthdays.

DK: Why is this House of Culture 2.0 needed in Poland today?

KW: There are many reasons. First of all, I see a clear gap between the offers for children. For older children sports activities are mainly organized – there are trampolines, skate parks. And super. This is necessary and also a great luxury. However, when it comes to the daily possibilities of spending time until parents return from work, or offers to spend time away from their parents’ home, but at home with their friends, there are only walks around the housing estate, benches by the nearby canal / lake. Young people do not go to a café, sometimes they will go for a pizza. And that’s it.

Many children can take advantage of additional activities, which makes them happy, but also causes that the children have full graphics, and still have nowhere to stay. Growing up is an important moment when young people want to be among themselves, need a sense of belonging and look for additional role models among adults, also outside school and at home. This is the first important point.

The second important aspect refers to “2.0”, i.e. the digital education aspect. We want to offer such activities that will be interesting and unique on the one hand, and on the other hand will raise awareness of the possibilities, opportunities, but also the threats to online life. We want to strengthen the competence of digital intelligence, if we want to.

Our formal education system is not able to keep up with the technological development of our times. It is said today that the majority of human jobs will be replaced in the future by the work of machines. Hence, we see a clear need to support the education system with non-formal methods. We also see our role in ensuring that young people have a place in their lives to acquire competences on a voluntary and fun basis, without assessment and according to their own interests, but in line with the trends and challenges of our time.

DK: Where do you get your inspiration from (other countries and concepts?)?

KW: Similar concepts and attitudes concerning non-formal but institutionalised education can be found in other European countries such as Great Britain, Belgium, France and Finland, where they operate under the name Youth Cafe or Youthhouse. They differ from school day-rooms or community centres known to us by the very aspect of creating social bonds among participants and support from adults, who, unrelated to school, become an important support for young people.

One of the pillars of this “philosophy” is positive psychology, which, when made a habit, is to strengthen us and make us resistant to stress and challenges in difficult times.

Sorjonen herself from Youth Against Drugs about youth centres in Finland I write this way:

“For those young people who use the services of youth centres, these centres are their living room, a place to meet others, to learn new skills and to participate in something they consider important in their lives.

As for some young people, youth centres are only a place where you can break away from reality. All young people can participate as much or as little as they want. But they are still nice and safe adults with whom you can have fun.

For some children, youth leaders are the only adults they have contact with during the day.

Broos Claerhout from Quindoo describes the roles of youth centres in Belgium in this way:

“A youth home/centre is a safe place where young people can be themselves and experiment without the need for superior authority around them.

There is a youth worker who approaches young people in an authentic and understandable way, who has responsibilities but no clear pedagogical task.

Young people have the opportunity to go there, spend time there, without feeling the pressure to succeed, complete or deliver anything. They can only be themselves.

The youth home offers learning opportunities, young people can take responsibility (only if they are willing and able) for organizing their own events, changing the centre, etc. They can only be themselves.

It provides them with a safe environment for peers, non-formal learning opportunities that can provide transferable social skills that benefit them on a larger scale (life skills, employment, teamwork, school….)’.

The level of development of these offers for young people and the level of advancement of implementation largely depends on two things: on the public money allocated to support this type of action and de facto make them an “institution”, and secondly on the awareness of the value of this type of action by society.

In Finland, for example, cooperation between public youth institutions and business is flourishing for the simple reason that today’s business decision-makers used youth centres themselves in the past and thus want to support today’s generation. It is beautiful. Everyone will one day start the first step and possibly trigger a positive revolution. I would like others to follow us.

Finland is also at the forefront when it comes to combining youth work with the digital world and new technologies. They call it the Digital Youthwork. We are strongly inspired by Finnish best practices.

In Poland, I observe a strong commitment to education not so much of public institutions, but of individuals, entrepreneurs and parents. Democratic schools are being set up, wonderful summer and winter camps are being organised. There are really great ideas. And I did not want to wait for the development of education on behalf of the public sector, I did not have so much time. And I think I was very keen on my own actions. So following my motto “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can,” we started to create Digit@l Friends.

Facts at the end

Digit@l Friends is a service place in the newly built housing estate Kolorowy Gocław.

Address: Międzyborska 8A, 04-041 Warszawa

Planned opening January/February 2019


We would like to thank eurobabble for this contribution!

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