A return to villages, a trend of the post-COVID era?
The pandemic has changed our view on villages, now valued as healthier environments isolated from the pollution and overcrowding of large cities. With this in mind, there is increasing talk on the possibilities for repopulating rural areas. However, without employment and training opportunities, many young people are unable to launch such vital projects in their home regions. In this regard, the Jóvenes Dinamizadores Rurales network (English: “Young People for Rural Dynamism”) offers support and backing for young people through initiatives to revitalize the rural environment in which they live. We chatted to Sara Cortés, the project’s coordinator, to get her impressions on the opportunities that rural environments have to offer.
Do young people still want to leave the villages where they grew up?
I believe that the prism through which young people view the rural environment is changing. Twenty years ago, young people who stayed to live in the village were perhaps seen as having failed in life. But this is not the case now. And young people also no longer see it that way. The digital age and new models of healthy living are breaking stereotypes and elevating the rural environment, so it is seen as a privileged place to live. Nowadays, being a villager is trendy. We have job opportunities in rural areas, thanks to the digitization of many jobs, and we have the opportunity to live at a slower pace while enjoying the natural environment. What’s more, we can go to the city whenever we need to, as transport networks have also improved (for the most part).
What drives young people to move to the city, in your opinion?
Young people usually fly the nest at 18, when higher education begins, while the lack of job opportunities in some sectors also leads to migration, along with the desire to “see the world.” But it’s mainly to study or for work.
Are we seeing a return to villages as a result of the pandemic?
I believe that those of us living in villages have it easier at the moment. We have more space and there are fewer people, and that helps to avoid the spread of the virus. We have also seen that, thanks to remote working, many people who had village roots have decided to leave the city and work remotely back home in their village. Co-working spaces are also becoming more common, so remote working is not necessarily limited to working from home. You can go to a space where you can feel included in a working environment, collaborate and share.
“The digital age and new models of healthy living are breaking stereotypes and elevating the rural environment, so it is seen as a privileged place to live”
What can villages offer to make life easier compared to cities?
Quality of life, without a doubt. Friendlier and healthier environments, warmer and closer personal and social relationships, mutual help, cooperation between neighbors, a calmer pace of life, a return to educating people in values and to models of social and collaborative entrepreneurship. In short, a more sustainable, more conscious and more respectful way of life.
How do you help young people to start their own projects?
The real purpose of the network is to provide technical and financial tools and resources for young people to develop their own projects. We do this using various forums through which they can present their ideas, and we support them throughout the process with training, advice and tools for motivation and inspiration.
The value of Jóvenes Dinamizadores Rurales lies in the community behind the project, which goes beyond local boundaries. It is a regional network that allows young people to feel like part of a collective in which they learn and develop, socially and even professionally, and that allows them to connect with other young people who have common interests. As well as young people, the network includes youth leaders from the collaborating regions, along with rural development workers, employment agents and associations and companies that believe in a more innovative, social and sustainable rural world.
“More sustainable, more conscious and more respectful way of life”
Why is it important to encourage young people to stay in the place they were born?
Our vision has not so much to do with promoting young people to stay and live in the place they were born, but with providing the necessary tools for them to decide whether they want to stay. The most important thing is to be able to choose where you live, and for all places, whether rural or urban, to meet the basic conditions for you to be able to develop your personal, professional and family life.
Our network promotes values that are well-aligned with rural life, because obviously our objective is to achieve a stronger, more innovative, more participatory and more youthful area.
Is rural life being valued once again?
I think so, fortunately. Thanks to a big push by the people, entrepreneurs, companies and services that exist in the rural environment, we are becoming more visible, emphasizing the positives of rural life, showing that living in a village does not take anything away, but has a lot to add.
Through our network we have carried out and will continue to carry out different campaigns to give visibility to initiatives, projects and people that are doing great things, working at an incredible rate of innovation, and ascribing value to people and processes, rather than to the economic profitability of projects. And this is something that is being valued very positively. We have to make ourselves visible, both face-to-face and digitally, so that the wave of rurality grows ever greater.
What do you imagine village life will be like over the next 20 years?
I imagine a thriving rural environment, with interesting projects, led by people who are prepared and qualified. A rural environment with education and health services tailored to its population, with good digital connections and also good transport connections. A rural environment that is inclusive and worth living in.