“That may not work here.” These were the words Martina Jachevska heard often when she shared an idea on how to positively impact her hometown of Probistip. She was ambitious and forward-thinking and wanted to offer alternative ways to make things better for her community.
“People would tell me that it is the job and responsibility of the municipality,” Jachevska said. “That I can try but should not have my hopes high.”
But when Jachevska volunteered abroad, people encouraged her ideas and the activism she wanted to pursue back home. She wondered if other young people in her community needed this same support to feel empowered to voice their concerns.
“The return to my home country made me realize that I was and still am not the only one that was thinking this way and was willing to get involved in my community,” Jachevska, 26, said. “I met other peers and young people that shared this reality. They all needed a safe place, encouragement and guidance.”
Youth centers served as these safe places for people to share initiatives and collaborate on projects and initiatives in countries where Jachevska visited. Diving into existing laws passed by the government of North Macedonia, she realized these centers could be created via the 2020 Law on Youth Participation and Youth Policies.
MySpace! soon became the name of her initiative to inform young people in her town about the need and opportunity to establish a youth center and methods in which young people can be directly involved in decision-making and youth-related processes.
Her initiative was supported by Support to Electoral Reforms in North Macedonia, a project of the Government of Switzerland implemented by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).
“The hardest part was – and still is – to get the local and national government bodies to understand the reasoning behind the concept of the youth centers and the need and amount of financial support required in order to provide quality functioning of such a youth center,” she said.
She ultimately persuaded her local government to convert a space into a youth center. Due to the upcoming local elections and the impossibility of reallocating funds for equipping the center, the finalization of the process was left to take place after the elections.
Besides the scheduled opening of the youth center, which will be the fifth one in the entire country, Jachevska said MySpace! has mobilized young people to engage in local politics and their elected officials.
“We must initiate the change ourselves, and as young people, we have an obligation to be active and fight to achieve common goals that provide for a better life in our municipalities.”
As part of the Support to Electoral Reforms project, dozens of young people across North Macedonia are monitoring the promises made by the government under the 2021-2024 program and are implementing initiatives to increase civic engagement and public accountability at grass-root levels.
“Our goal is to support local initiatives from various groups in society to encourage reforms in the electoral process and greater inclusion of young people, and population at large, in decision making, public and political life of the country,” Ioana Cosma, the project director, said.
Support to Electoral Reforms in North Macedonia is a project of the Government of Switzerland. The project aims to support democratic and credible electoral processes that facilitate political participation and social integration by enabling voters to elect their representatives and hold them accountable. The project works on strengthening all participating institutions in the electoral process, internal democratization of political parties and citizen education. The activities are mainly aimed at three different target groups, namely: 1) the election administration, through direct support of the State Election Commission and lower-level election management bodies; 2) political parties, through direct support of initiatives of young members and activists working on projects intended for citizens; and 3) the civil society sector, through the direct support of young mobilizers in the community. The project, which started in 2019, is implemented by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).