Marieke Prien is the President of the International Humanist and Ethical Youth Organisation (IHEYO), which is part of IHEU. In this educational series, we will be discussing international youth humanism.
Scott Jacobsen: You are the president of the International Humanist and Ethical Youth Organisation (IHEYO). I am an editor and contributor to Humanist Voices, and am on the Americas Working Group for IHEYO. I wanted to learn more from your perspective, and in the exploration — for me — educate others. To begin this educational series on international youth humanism — its purpose, contents, and future, what are the demographics of youth humanism?
Marieke Prien: IHEYO’s target group are humanists aged 18–35. This doesn’t mean that people younger or older than that are not welcome, but it is the age group we are mostly working with and for. This is also connected to legal issues, especially at events where people under age would need a custodian.
But in the national organizations, there are also members younger than 18. For example, in Germany, many teenagers join and start being active after having done a humanist coming-of-age ceremony at age 14.
Unfortunately, I cannot say much more about the demographics, such as gender or educational backgrounds, as we do not get sufficient information from the member organizations.
Jacobsen: Who are some allies for youth humanism, e.g. ethical societies and ethical cultures?
Prien: In a broader sense, an ally could be anyone introducing humanism to young people. Family members, teachers or maybe even friends.
But more specifically, there are several organizations that are allies. Sometimes, it is merely the name that is different, sometimes they focus on different topics and measures but have a humanist world view. Some examples would be the Ethical Societies in the USA, the Prometheus Camp Associations in Finland and Sweden, Freethought associations, or Effective Altruism groups.
Jacobsen: As the president of IHEYO, you have unique insights, and responsibility, on international youth humanism, what is involved in organizing the global community? What is necessary to build and maintain one?
Prien: There are two dimensions to this: age and internationality.
Regarding age, it is important to take into account is that the lives of young people can be very unsteady. There is always motion because of changes in school, work, and the social circle. Many people have not settled yet and are unsure about their future. Their daily life can go through quieter periods in alternation with very stressful ones.
Because of this motion, people think twice before committing. For example, the members of our Executive Committee are elected for two years. This means that, to be part of it, you should at least somewhat know how you are going to spend the next two years, if you will still have time and enthusiasm to work with us. This can be scary and discouraging. So I think it is important to show that it is perfectly fine and normal, nobody expects a young person to have their schedule and daily life fixed like somebody who has worked in the same job for 25 years. There will be ups and downs, but that should not discourage anyone.
The other dimension, internationality, also has its challenges but brings this great diversity which I don’t want to miss. I am not only talking about diversity of the people, I am especially talking about the variety of topics and issues we are dealing with as humanists. We have a common base — humanism — on which we build our projects. What these projects are aiming at depends on local circumstances.
To be able to account for this, IHEYO has Working Groups: for Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. Of course a group cannot cover all local topics of an entire continent. But they connect the member organizations and plan actions together, targeting what they feel is most important in their region.
During regular meetings of IHEYO’s group chairs, communication officer, secretary-general and president, we keep each other updated, make plans and take decisions.
This structure allows us to aim at more local issues as well as worldwide ones. I believe it shows the people that their local affairs are taken seriously while at the same time connecting them to a global community.
Common events are of course the best way to maintain a community, the atmosphere is amazing at it brings such a boost in motivation and enthusiasm. But sadly, due to financial and other restrictions, not everybody who is active in IHEYO is able to join, at least not internationally. So the community also relies a lot on social media and other means of communication. We are lucky to live in a time where this is made easy.
Jacobsen: Some general provisions of IHEYO are associations, connections, a new publication (Humanist Voices). Can you describe some of these features of IHEYO in some depth?
Prien: As I mentioned above, there are events organized by us (in cooperation with the local member organizations) which contribute a lot to the community. They usually feature several talks and workshops providing information and know-how to the participants. The program points are held by either our members or external speakers, for example somebody from an Effective Altruism group. So there is a lot people can learn, which makes half of the outcome of the events. The other half is the deep sense of community, the heated discussions, and the ideas and plans people develop together.
I would like to mention that participation is not limited to our members, anybody can join and is very welcome to do so!
Humanist Voices is a blog that we started rather recently. It is a collection of thoughts expressed by different people, a platform for humanists who would like to publish articles, not a publication with a uniform opinion of IHEYO as an organization. We want to show that being a humanist doesn’t mean having a precast opinion that is entirely shared with other humanists. We want to encourage people to be sceptic, discuss, and form their own opinions.
Again — if anybody is interested, you are welcome to join!
Original Publication in Humanist Voices.