Een Nederlandse kijk op de CATS conferentie in Caux, Switzerland

Gepubliceerd 19 augustus 2014 – door Kim van Laar

CATS conference, CauxDeze blog is alleen beschikbaar in het Engels.

We are travelling in a small train on the final part of our journey from Amsterdam to Switzerland. Our suitcases are packed in a carriage at the front. We go higher and higher. Once in a while there is a descent, because of a valley. The sights are becoming more beautiful by the minute. There is fog around the mountains and if you look closely you can see the snow on the top of them. And then suddenly, when we are almost at the top, there it is: the beautiful castle. Here we are, an eleven-strong group of ladies in a beautiful location with a beautiful goal: to actively participate and brainstorm at the CATS conference. But what is CATS exactly?

Well, it is not about sweet and cuddly little cats, as you may think. No, this is serious business. CATS stands for Children as Actors for Transforming Society. In other words: children will think of ways in which society can work better for them. This is the second time this conference has been organised, with children from all over the world coming to the castle to share their experiences and ideas.

A while back the Bernard van Leer Foundation asked us, Stichting Alexander, if we wanted to participate in the CATS conference together with a group of children from Jeugdzorg (Youth Care, the Netherlands). We asked Trivium Lindenhof if they wanted to participate. Soon after that, a selection was made and a group of enthusiastic girls (who did not know each other) was formed. Before the conference the girls met a couple of times to get to know each other and to discuss what they wanted to do at the conference. Many great and creative ideas came out of these meetings.

Once we arrived at the conference we all had to acclimatise a bit. So many people from different countries and languages, and the castle was so big you could easily get lost. The girls came up with mnemonics to remember what was located on which floor. But soon we all found our way.
At the conference, each day had a different theme: children as advocates, children as educators, justice and advocacy, children as health activists, and children as moviemakers. Each day started with a plenary session with different speakers introducing the theme, there was a workshop and you had your own group to evaluate with, and in between there was some free time. After dinner there was always a nice evening activity planned, such as a treasure hunt, disco night and a talent contest, which amused both the adults and the children.

CATS conference, CauxCATS conference, CauxCATS conference, Caux

What we noticed as early as the first day were the big groups and the long discussions. 500 people with different languages… quite a challenge to direct the conference in the right way. For the girls it was clear: too much talking. It was hard for them to listen in English and there was no Dutch translator present. For this reason we adjusted the programme a bit and created more of a challenge for the girls. For instance, they interviewed children from different countries and made a beautiful video about the conference.

Stichting Alexander’s mission at the conference was mainly to inform as many people as possible about the project we are working on, with the support of the Bernard van Leer Foundation. For the campaign ‘Kindermishandeling, Praten helpt!’ (‘Child abuse, talking helps!’), young but experienced experts provide information on child abuse to children, youth, teachers, professionals and policy makers. The message is mainly awareness about how important it is to talk about child abuse with children.
The conference was the perfect opportunity for us to share our knowledge and, above all, to hear about the knowledge and experiences of others. I gave a short presentation about our project and I asked the audience if they wanted to come by and brainstorm with us. We organised an open workshop for this, in which people could just walk in and start a conversation with us. We were very curious about how people were thinking about child abuse and what they would do to address and solve this issue. And it was a big success! For two hours people walked in and out. The girls promoted the workshop by walking through the castle with signs and treated the guests with Dutch stroopwafels, which was also very successful!

CATS conference, CauxCATS conference, Caux

Many people inspired me during the conference, but I also want to share something I was really surprised about. The conference was completely focused on children: what do the kids want to change? Of course there will also be many adults present, but the programme wasn’t completely suitable for children, especially the long discussions. I asked if there were children involved in the preparation and creation of the programme and they told me yes, using an online panel. But I can’t help but wonder how big the level of child involvement in this was. I hope that next year we can be a bit more involved in the organisation, so that we can give a few suggestions about adaptation of the programme for children.

That said, it gave me a lot of energy and positivity to see that many people all over the world are actively involved in and concerned about the wellbeing of children. I also realise how privileged I am to have been born and raised here in the Netherlands with so many chances and possibilities to develop. People, and especially children, are so beautiful and strong – we can never forget that.

Stichting Alexander is a non-profit Dutch research and advice agency on youth participation that implements projects for those already working with or interested to work with youth participation. Kim van Laar is one of Stichting Alexander’s young ambassadors on the subject of child abuse. Using her own experiences from the past, Kim informs, inspires and motivates people on the importance of talking about the subject child abuse.