VOICES: Kristina Sperkova

<h5>President, Movendi International. Ambassador for Planet Youth. </h5>
President, Movendi International. Ambassador for Planet Youth. 

You're a ‘youth’ or young person that has made an enormous difference as a role model and mentor. Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background! 

I have been active in the community since I was in secondary school. And even before that, I never used substances. I didn't have time, because I had this clear goal: to be an actress! So I kept busy, learning things to achieve this goal. I learned to play the piano, learned how to ride a horse.  I realized that some of my peers were using substances, but I didn't feel I needed them. Then I studied psychology because I wanted to work in prevention.  Since I was 18 years old, I have been involved in youth organizations promoting an alcohol-free lifestyle.

Is it true that your work in prevention has got a lot to do with one moment when your father caught a tram in Bratislava? 

Yes! My father was interested in a healthy lifestyle since he was young, and was always walking everywhere. But one day, he happened to take public transport in Bratislava. There was an ad encouraging people to learn more about an alcohol-free lifestyle. And so he called that number and eventually he got the responsibility to start a youth club. He was a director of a center for prevention in the town, so he started the peer program. And that's how I joined my first-ever peer program training. But at first, he didn´t want me there because I was his daughter. But every time my father came home from these meetings, describing what they were doing, I was upset because I couldn't take part. So finally, he let me join! I finished a two-year program. All “graduates” were invited to an international sober youth summer camp, and that is how I actually got involved in the international movement.

What do you see as the key elements of successful and effective prevention?

We understood early that the prevention of one-way communication, even impressing children through different testimonials, does not work. Prevention work needs to be long-term, thought through, evidence-based, and data-based. It is essential to adjust it to the actual local conditions, not just to the country's situation. And it's also important to have recent data. It should be run by trained people. We often see that prevention work is done by people who are really motivated but, unfortunately, they don't always have the correct methods, which can cause more harm than good. Not everyone needs a university degree in prevention, but training and understanding of prevention principles are required.

Are you limited to talking about alcohol when you work with youth, or do you hear about other issues? Is there a prevention message that could cut across different areas?

I encounter lots of messages about alcohol, but that is just a filter that helps me understand society. You can also apply it to many other things. It takes us to consumerism and what it does to us and how it makes us compensate for some kind of void in us. It is connected with social media, gaming, gambling, and different substances. So I would say that the consumerism society is really a problem pushing us into these behaviors that are harming us.

What do you think about 'Listen First'? Have you used it in your work? 

I love it! It is very simple and condensed but well-presented information for different target groups.  Looking at 'The Science of Skills', this is precisely where we need to go. In schools, the educational system teaches us to memorize hard facts. But then we enter life, and we actually don't know how to treat each other.  If people really adopted these life skills, society would look very different. So it's not only about preventing substance use or other risky behaviors. It's changing relations between people and creating a very different society. It also addresses the problems with consumerism and the emptiness it is causing. So I hope it can reach its targets groups, and I would like to help and make it go even further, maybe through Planet Youth, to reach the communities that are doing prevention. It's like a treasure that is waiting to be used! 

We have 'The Science of Care' for parents and 'The Science of Skills' for primary age children. We hope to be able to move next to your target group: adolescents. Do you have any hints about what would work best for this group? 

I believe the videos start some thinking process and they are enjoyable for everyone.  It's even interesting for adults to see these versions that kids understand too. But then the question is: what comes afterward? How do I learn curiosity, honesty, empathy, motivation, and other life skills? So the idea of a toolkit and 'engagement materials', for example, some kind of concrete activities or exercises would be helpful. * People might think: I am curious, it's great. But how do we foster it somehow?

Movendi speaks of human rights, democracy, and justice. What is the link between substance prevention and human rights?

Health or being able to attain the healthiest state possible is a human right. But this is not what is happening. Unfortunately, political decisions very often do not consider these rights. When it comes to the impact of substances, we can see that it has a huge impact on inequality and injustices. When people are healthy and living in the more just societies, they also can really take care of themselves a little bit better - it's a circle.  Through prevention, we can ensure that everyone will have the same baseline. We are also talking about freedom and the freedom of choice. Unfortunately, looking at the powerful commercial influences in society, I do not think we have freedom of choice.

Everything around us is working to influence us to do things we do not want or need, even ignoring our own health or the community around us.

*Note: Starting in 2022, ´Listen First´ is releasing new engagement materials for partners and stakeholders who want to interact with the materials. To get more information about how to use and even translate ‘Listen First’ - you can also get in touch with us using the engagement form.

Kristina Sperkova, born in the Slovak Republic, is a psychologist, alcohol and other drugs policy advocate, development aid specialist, feminist, civil society activist with 20 years of experience working in civil society in the field of health promotion with a special focus on alcohol prevention. She is the first female International President and the 32nd overall to lead Movendi International – the largest independent global movement for development through alcohol prevention. Kristina is also a Planet Youth ambassador. Planet Youth prevention model helps municipalities improve the lives of young people. The model uses knowledge based on the latest local data to build a better future for children.

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