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Akilah Russell, 24, is an MTV journalist who writes about youth issues. She is an Active Citizen with the Shoreditch Trust in London.

Here she describes how an International Study Visit in Serbia inspired her to use words to change her London community. 

There I was, standing on the top of a mountain in a country that I may never visited I hadn't taken part in the Active Citizens course held in Shoreditch – a place that now seemed a million miles away.

Standing by my side taking in the stunning sights were a group of young people from the the youth centre in Loznica, the Serbian city myself and three other Active Citizens were visiting as part of the fourth International Study Visit (ISV).

Beautiful Serbia

Looking out over this beautiful city, it was more than clear why, throughout a history of war and consequent economic turmoil, its people had fought to protect it.

But before the scary drive up to the top, I had had an even more eye-opening experience with the same group, this time in their HQ back in the city.

Our lovely guide and youth centre user, Tomislav, showed us his camera before explaining that the centre had provided him and several others with photography classes.

These images could then be uploaded using the centre's many computers. As well as photography, the centre runs a huge number of courses, from yoga to economics.


Back home in East London safe havens like this are becoming more few and far between. 'Social enterprise' is a buzz word for politicians, but their promises fall on deaf ears when many of us see closures.

While that can be disheartening, seeing a youth club thrive so far away gave me a few straws to clutch onto. Our meeting with the town's deputy Mayor reinforced that feeling.

And while the presence of camera crews could suggest why he would make such a statement, the fact we were able to directly ask him questions shouldn't be dismissed.

Fast forward a few days and several conversations, meetings, pictures, and slices of pizza later, our time in the town was over. It was time to return and feedback to the rest of the group.

Myself, Marina (Scotland), Kishor (India), Ijla (Serbia), and Joel (London), did our best to condense all that we had learned - not an easy feat.

We had all come so far since the first day when we broke the ice with an hilarious "warm up" exercise. On that very first day we all had sticky fingers from putting our hopes, skills and aspirations on our "tree of expectations" in the form of colourful post-its.

The room in the hotel where we held our sessions became our second home. After we "moved in" there was more stationery than you could wave a stick at, and a marketplace that displayed all of our cultures and food.

When people ask me if I had a good time on my ISV to Serbia I simply say: 'Da!' (yes). Not because I have nothing to say but because I have too much to say.

We debated, scribbled, opened up, laughed, clapped, stayed silent, contemplated, and planned.

I show people pictures of our time in Parliament and gloat about sitting in the President's chair (awesome), or I could tell them about the amazing social enterprises some of the Active Citizens are already running.

For days after my return I had a good old British moan about where to begin, until it dawned on me that by simply going we had all already started something special – and we were already becoming, 'locally connected and globally engaged'.

What's next can be explained in a saying I was told by one of the Serbian young people as I stood on top of that mountain - 'I do not wish to see the distant scene, one step is enough for me.'

Find out more about Shoreditch Trust Active Citizens 


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