Up close and personal with Nuno Da Silva
The name Nuno is one that often comes up when discussing with old YEU members or people that have been working with the organization for quite some time. Like a page from the past but one that comes with positive and enthusiastic connotations of a skilful and inspiring YEU presence. All the information circulating his name made me very curious to know more about him so when it was decided that the “YEUish - Where are they and what are they doing?” column would be re-launched, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to get up, close and personal. So here he is, in an amazing interview, one of the strongest and most influential figures of YEU, former Secretary General, YEU GB President and, from what his all of YEU participants’ who got to know him say, a highly inspirational NFE Facilitator and Trainer, Mr Nuno Da Silva.
1) Where are you now and have you been up to since leaving your position of the SG of YEU International?
I have been living in Timor-leste, since May 2010. This is one of the youngest countries in the world and a former Portuguese colony. I have been working as Planning and Management advisor for the National Directorate of Adult and Non Formal Education, under a World Bank project for Second Chance Education for adults out of school age.
To understand the last years after YEU, we must go back a bit further! The thing is, by the late 90's, in a moment or my life when I was demotivated with the university studies on Economy and with the direction of society in general, I got involved in the youth movement, through a local NGO in Faro, creating a group of adventure sports. Later on, in 1998, after participating in a YEU seminar in Sweden about racism and xenophobia, the international scene opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibilities. One year after, I was in the governing board of YEU as well as in the board of the local NGO. Those experiences gave a deep feeling of engagement and motivation to carry change in myself and around me, through action.
Finishing my studies at the end of that decade and working for almost 2 years in the business field, helped to clarify that I had become an activist and there was no way back! In mid 2001, I quit a promising career of CEO and started working as the YEU project coordinator receiving a quarter of my former salary. But I was happy.
Those 4 years working professionally for YEU, were remarkable in all senses. It helped to understand the dynamics of a diverse organization full of diverse people with common interests and different views on the way it should work its aim and its future. It made me think about issues like participation, democracy, inclusion and human rights and how these relate with the daily life and the way to live them as a youth leader.
By the end of the mandate, I decided to invest my work in education as the tool to contribute to social transformation. Since education and learning is about everything and everyone, it was a natural progress for someone like me who is more of a generalist who likes to experience different things and to know a bit of everything and make links between fields of knowledge and experiences, links between people.
After the experience as YEU Secretary General, which ended in 2005, I decided to invest my energy as a trainer with non-formal education. I was accepted in the European Youth Forum Pool of Trainers, representing YEU, in April 2005 and became member of the Council of Europe Pool a couple of months later.
Between 2005 and 2010, I made all sorts of educational activities, including being YEU President for 2 years. I trained Russian youth workers and activists in youth participation, democracy and human rights as well as in non formal education. I developed courses for trainers on Global Education with young people from 4 different continents, made courses in South America, Africa and Asia. I facilitated many European youth events, gave many trainings for European youth workers and activists on facilitation, project management, organizational management, theatre of the oppressed, trainings for trainers, human rights, youth participation, sustainable development, social inclusion, international cooperation, intercultural learning and a number of other themes.
Most interestingly, I became more aware of the importance of choosing the right places to invest my energy to achieve the bigger results. Due to that, I encouraged the Portuguese National Youth Council to create a Pool of Trainers and became its first coordinator in 2006. That experience, which lasted until 2010, gave me the opportunity to multiply my European experiences, throughout Portugal and later to the Portuguese speaking countries in Africa and south of Europe through Euro Africa cooperation projects. Those years helped to connect Portuguese young educators, to assist the National Youth Council in becoming more participative and dynamic and to provide capacity to develop its educational dimension.
By the end of 2009, I was tired of travelling around and wanted to focus my energy in a long term project. With some colleagues from YEU and other friends, we started a Cooperative of Education, Cooperation and Development called ECOS. Meanwhile, I didn't feel motivated to be the engine of the organization and by mid March 2010, I received an email from a friend calling my attention to a 4 months contract in Timor-Leste in the non-formal education field. I applied, was selected and ended up staying here working in that field since then.
2) What is the nature of your current tasks and how are they compared to your YEU ones?
I am currently responsible for assisting the National Directorate of the Ministry of Education, in developing the capacity to manage and plan its nation wide programs in order to ensure an effective implementation of the World Bank project which aims to develop second chance education programs for adults who are out of school age. Timor-leste has been colonized by Portugal until 1974, when it became independent for few months, until it was forcefully occupied by Indonesia, who controlled the country with fierce wrist until 1999. When I arrived in 2010, more than 50% of the population couldn't read or write. Most people live under the poverty line, the economy is mainly composed of subsistence agriculture and there are a lot of social problems related with lack of access to basic things like water and electricity, information and educational opportunities. Under these circumstances, my job has been to develop and implement a capacity building plan, develop programs monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, annual plan and budget, monitoring of budget and action plan execution, coordinate the World Bank project implementation which involves developing the national equivalency program (fast track program to give equivalence to basic education) and creating a network of Community Learning Centres throughout the country. I spend much time facilitating meetings of the senior staff to assess the situation of the programs, including the massive National Literacy Campaign, and to identify solutions to the many problems faced everyday.
I must respect the local rhythm and act as an interface between the World Bank expectations in terms of project implementation, and the everyday reality of Timor-leste and capacity of the staff to integrate new habits and tools in their work. Sometimes it's like living in 2 worlds which often collide - the ancient rural way of life and the modern cosmopolitan way. Most times it is quite frustrating to watch recurrent mistakes being made here, the same things which didn't work out in our own countries, being advertised as the way to go here.
3) How did the experience in YEU help you in your current position?
I think the YEU experience helped me a lot in many ways. What I am today is part of what I became through YEU. For one thing, I learned to live and manage frustration :-) Democracy, inclusion and respect also means that often the ideas we consider the best are not taken by the community as a whole and we must continue to advocate for them as well as to constantly critically analyze them to see our own prejudices and face many wrong assumptions we carry with us. I believe YEU gave me the immense opportunity to develop my potential in many fields which are pertinent to my work today and it's impossible to enumerate them here. For me, YEU will always be a space to develop young people's potential to create a better world. Unfortunately, when people come together, most times, there is no coherence between what is talked and how we act. I think YEU, like all other organizations of people, are capable of great ideas and actions as well as of regular violations of many principles the organization promotes and defends.
4) Moving in East Timor such a long way from Portugal must have been a challenge! How is life there compared to Europe?
When I lived in Faro, I always said I would only move more south :-) So I think I adapted pretty well to this place. For one thing, there is the sea right in front of the capital which is surrounded by a beautiful bay and faces the island of Atauro in front. The air temperature is always between 25 and 35 degrees, except in the mountains where it can get chill, and the water temperature is around 27º! Timor-leste is one of the best spots to dive in the world and i became a diver here, occupying many weekends, exploring the wonders of the underwater world.
I must confess i had an idealistic image of Timor, since i was involved in the student movements in the 90's to support the Timor people's right for self determination. I guess the most difficult thing to adapt here is the difficulties to develop friendships with the Timorese people. There are a lot of traumas and obstacles to overcome, related with being colonized and then occupied for 25 years. Adding to that, the Asian peoples interact differently from what is common in other parts of the world. There are different codes of communication and living together and a lot of subtleties which challenge our own way of thinking and acting. It has been a constant discover and reflection on the nature of things and what is really essential and what is superficial, what matters and what is irrelevant, what is acceptable and what cannot be tolerated.
Of course it's a challenge to deal with lack of electricity during long periods of time or not having canalized water all the time or having the constant risk of getting malaria or dengue. But life is full of risks no matter where we are. Security is an illusion. We might feel secure at home and our world be turned upside down by uncontrollable events. I believe the biggest feeling of security is to live life facing our own fears and overcoming them in order to pursue our dreams and follow our instincts and let life show us the way.
Europe is a long way from here. In any sense I can imagine. The pace of life is different, the climate and the nature is different. Here there are fewer distractions, there is more connection with nature, there are fewer luxuries there's more questions than answers...
5) When will you be back in Europe?
My contract ends in September 2013 and I think I will leave by the end of the year. I am thinking of not travelling by plane and feel the distances so I might be travelling around the world for some time just by land or sea or just sit and relax in a god forsaken paradise in Asia... who knows...
At the moment I feel I must be prepared to fight if I go back to Europe. It's not only an economical problem that people face there. I think the collapse of the "world as we know it" is coming and the changes will not come easy. People will have to take sides and know what is really fundamental for them... and I am not sure it is development the way we know it... market oriented...
I still believe we can and will develop our human capital to become humanists in peace with each other and with nature. I just don't know if we will do it in a constructive or destructive way. Now I look at Europe and I see the collapse of the dream myself and others have been working for in the past decades.
6) What has been your proudest moment / biggest achievement in your post-YEU path?
All steps and experiences were necessary to become who I am today. I think the most important experience I pass through was kind of mystical, which happened in the beginning of 2010 and had to do with accepting my failures, my weaknesses and my "dark side" and recognize that I am also that. It gave me a feeling of liberty and acceptance of my true self and allowed me to become more spontaneous and let my creative side emerge more deeply and openly. It also allowed me to question myself more and make a real effort to continue to change and transform myself... that is the dynamic of life.
7) What are your plans for the future?
I am not concerned with my future in the sense that I trust in life to show me the way to go. I just need to be connected with myself and my surroundings and recognize the inner drives and outside signals that make up the path of ones life.
I leave you with a short passage of one of my favourite poems I often used in trainings with young people!
"Walker there is no path, you make the path as you go" - Antonio Machado
Alegria e amor
Nuno da Silva (Interviewed by Eleni ioannou, Editor in Chief)