One of the principal actors in this impressive, qualitative growth is Cecilia Vazquez Suarez, a very interesting character who is devoting herself fully to her people and her career with a team of professionals from the Xunta de Galicia (Regional Council of Galicia). Ms Vazquez Suarez is not only a politician (her title is Directora Xeral de Xuventude, Participación e Voluntariado – Regional Director for Youth, Participation, and Volunteering), but an inspirational and uplifting personality who has as a main objective empowering youth, supporting those who cannot afford mobility, increasing the spirit of volunteering, and achieving a steady reduction in social exclusion in Galicia.
The first thing you may notice in Ms Vazquez Suarez is her willingness to take action and her closeness to people, a warm connection which allows any observer to see her ambitions for the province of Galicia and her determination to accomplish her mission as a committed citizen. And it is the same closeness that motivates Galician and Spanish youth to take inspiration from her.
iHola, Cecilia! Could you introduce yourself and tell us who you are, what you studied, what dreams you had when you were young, and what it cost you to become the woman you are today?
I studied law and got a Masters in Youth and Society. Moreover, from a young age I was part of the youth association movement of my people, in Betanzos, and it was there that I arrived at that point of my life where I first understood my interest in trying to improve opportunities for citizens in general, but youth in particular. The experiences I had during the time I spent in Betanzos led me to politics, and I reckon it was the natural next step: first – work in civil society; political involvement just straight after that, which is where you can change things for the better and the future.
Why did you choose exactly this race and why your commitment to your country and young people?
My commitment to youth and society grew out of the environment in which I was born and where I have lived since a very young age and thanks to my participation in associations. And law school was because I believe in justice and it is a hybrid career that can be very useful in different jobs and allows people to get involved actively on the matters affecting and regarding the whole province.
Throughout your political career: what have been the challenges and hurdles that you had to overcome? Was it easy / difficult?
I think that in politics the challenge and the main effort is to reinvent yourself every day, you are in the position of evaluating critical issues because society is constantly evolving, and the solutions that we apply today may no longer be valid tomorrow, especially if we talk about youth policies and, although I am passionate about my work, it is a difficult challenge, because if it seems easy it is certain that you are not doing your job.
Tell us a little about Galicia: what is the situation in this part of Spain? And young people – how do they feel after the economical crisis?
The main problem we have in the whole of Spain is undoubtedly unemployment, which affects people more than anything else, and is a situation that we work hard to overcome. Thus, unemployment fell from 23.7% in November 2014 to 21.4% in the same month last year. The adjustments made in recent years have caused unemployment to fall faster than ever and with more intensity than in any other EU country. In the past year, one in three people leaving unemployment in the euro zone did it in Spain.
In Galicia, things are a bit better than in the rest of Spain, with unemployment at 17.1%, but the authorities have to keep trying until all people who want to work can do so. We can achieve more with some more effort.
How does Galicia work for young people? Do you have a structured plan that can serve as an example to other countries and regions of Europe?
The last legislature, through the Youth Law of Galicia, mandated that regional youth policies are to be coordinated through strategic plans. Thus, we have the Strategic Plan 2014-2016 Youth Galicia, which guarantees a joint investment over three years of 340 million Euros in youth policies. The plan has 11 lines of action: education, employment; creativity and entrepreneurship; living space; health and sport; participation and partnership; volunteering; information and training; mobility and tourism, language promotion; and equality.
We are really enthusiastic about it, and we will continue to work to succeed in improving youth employment and in social inclusion, of course.
We know that the Directorate of Galicia has had a fairly high profile in the field of non-formal education and support for youth opportunity: what is the relationship you have with them?
Over the last few months, the process of restructuring the programs of the Directorate General of Youth Participation and Volunteerism was completed. Previously, the programs were based on leisure management and now have shifted their focus to non-formal education programs. These programs allow us to complement the academic curriculum and promote a series of highly valued and appreciated interpersonal skills, such as teamwork, responsibility, communication excellence, and a revised sensibility which encourages initiative and self-confidence, among others.
In recent years we have launched pioneering projects at the state level to offer young people tools to demonstrate their ability to organize, undertake, and promote those activities where they themselves are the main actors.
Do you enjoy spending time with young people and sharing stories and experience with them? Give us an example that might fit.
¡Mucho! And again, I think one of my main functions corresponds exactly to that. I try to visit and participate in most of the projects arising from our non-formal education programs, so the best example is my own agenda. That it is how I can find out what their motivations are, how we can improve our programs or create new opportunities for them.
What we know about you is that you are a strong person with a smile always on your face and a positive attitude. How do you handle so much work and passion plus the stress of so much traveling, carrying out action plans of great importance, and all the rest?
That positivism is an attitude I try to foster every day. Otherwise, the rest that I seek is to seize the moment. When I have leisure time I am with the family, especially, and traveling, one of my passions.
If you could make a comparison between the youth of your time and the youth of today: What differences do you see and how have times changed from your point of view?
Wow! That question I cannot answer you, do you still consider me very young? Seriously, perhaps the most radical change for youth in recent years is that produced by the advent of information and communications technology. With its millions of good things, but also with their faults, we must work to improve together. Otherwise, the aspirations and needs of young people are always the same in every generation: employment, training, housing, family, etc.
Give us a message inviting young people to act within the politics of their regions and actively contribute to civic life at both the local and at the European level.
Well, they should first try to intervene and improve their immediate environment, politics will follow in a natural way. And do not forget that the most immediate work to do can be in any country or region of Europe where borders previously divided and separated, today transformed into an opportunity for collaboration, understanding, and progress.