By Kristine Berzins and Patricia Becus

Moses Mpali-Taire lives in a society where you don’t talk about sex.

Yet during the past year, he and other members of the Teenage Education Health Centre Uganda have been busy training other young people to lead sexual and reproductive health clubs in their communities.

To Moses, the clubs are a way to get young advocates talking about the sexual and reproductive health issues that affect their lives, and to encourage others to do the same.

“What is phenomenal about this project is that young people are now prepared to be the champions of their sexual reproductive health needs,” he says.

Now, more than ever, young people are in need of comprehensive family planning and reproductive health services. In 2008, the world’s population reached a high of 6.8 billion people – over one-half under the age of 30. Most of them live in the developing world where access to such services is very low.

Today, as PAI celebrates International Youth Day, we salute Moses and other young people around the world who are taking action to ensure to access family planning and reproductive health services.

PAI engages youth as creative and strategic partners through the umbrella of its Young People’s Initiative (YPI). Over the past year, the initiative was hard at work to empower young people to advocate for their own sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) both in the US and abroad.

Domestically, PAI educates young people in the U.S. about the reproductive health needs of their peers in the developing world. Over the past year, the YPI went to college campuses in Atlanta, Georgia and Charlottesville, Virginia with from Youth Vision Zambia to discuss the challenges that youth in developing countries have in accessing sexual and reproductive health services. As a result of PAI’s visit, students in Atlanta were inspired to reach out to Rep. John Lewis D-GA and ask him to sign onto the letter to the Office for Budget Management requesting $1 billion dollars for international family planning programs.

Internationally, the YPI seeks to improve the young people’s SRHR, foster women`s empowerment and gender equality, promote an integration of SRHR in combating HIV/ AIDS, reduce adolescent maternal mortality and promote environmental sustainability. In 2009, we launched the first youth small grants fund and supported three youth-led organizations’ efforts to run their own advocacy campaigns for youth SRHR. In addition to the Teenage Education Health Centre Uganda, YPI’s grants supported TAMASHA Tanzania, an organization working to include youth in the policymaking process; and Youth Action Movement Rwanda, and affiliate of the Family Planning Association of Rwanda.

These grants are often the only unrestricted source of support for the advocacy work of an organization, thus enabling grantees to establish permanent policy and advocacy programs with seed support from PAI.

Winston Churchill Shauri, TAMASHA

Winston Churchill Shauri, TAMASHA, highlighting the importance of men’s involvement in programs addressing SRHR during a screening of Empty Handed hosted by the office of Hon. Sylvia Ssinabulya, MP Mityana.

Winston Churchill Shauri, co-founder of TAMASHA Tanzania, says that due to funding from the YPI, “TAMASHA was able to interact and raise the youth SRHR agenda with key community leaders at local government authorities” and reach 150 young people in Kinodoni Municipal, a ward of Dar-el-Salaam.

Chantal Umuhoza, an advocate with Youth Action Movement in Rwanda, is leading a project assessing the SRHR needs and challenges of young people in more than 3 Rwandan districts. YAM wants to present the findings and policy recommendations to district policymakers and monitor their commitments.

Chantal Umuhoza - YAM Rwanda, Winston Churchill - TAMASHA Tanzania and Moses Mpaali - THEC UgandaChantal Umuhoza – YAM Rwanda, Winston Churchill – TAMASHA Tanzania and Moses Mpaali – THEC Uganda participate in a screening of PAI documentary Empty Handed in Kampala, Uganda

The YPI applauds the United Nations’ 2009 decision to proclaim the year to come the International Year of Youth, and will continue working with these domestic and international partners to advance the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people.