International Youth Day Q&A with Youth-Led Partners
Through YOUAccess, PAI supports youth-led organizations to strengthen their organizational capacity and advance adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health and rights (AYSRHR) through policy and funding changes. Rather than hear from us, we wanted to give our partners a chance to tell their stories. To celebrate International Youth Day, we spoke with YOUAccess partners to find out how they became involved in AYSRHR, what they need from funders and why they think it is vital to meaningfully engage young people.
1. How did you become involved in the work of AYSRHR?
Lili Shimeles (Talent Youth Association, Ethiopia): I think it was the fourth grade — the age we start learning about the reproductive system as well as the menstrual cycle. I remember that a lot of us actually got our first periods at the ages of 10, 11 and 12 and we were very ashamed. It was difficult to get access to sanitary materials. I always wondered: Why is it a shame? It’s just a natural cycle that comes every month, and we should be proud of it.
Shilpa Lamichhane (Visible Impact, Nepal): I had a chance to take a training on menstrual hygiene management through Visible Impact. After that workshop, we had to go to schools and train other young people and school-going adults on menstruation. When we interacted with them, I realized that young people lack so much knowledge and information about their own bodies, health and rights. I thought that there was a huge need to provide information to them through different means and media and to meaningfully involve them in the process.
Lamecks Kiyare (Youth Response for Social Change, Malawi): I was born in the most remote area of my country. The challenge was that there were a lot of sexually transmitted infections and teenage pregnancies among young people, so I wondered, “Ooh, what is going on in my community?” I managed to link up with the young people in our community so we could sit down and try to strategize with the health facility team to see how young people can have access to sexual and reproductive health information and services.
2. What type of donor support and relationship do you need? What does a good relationship look like?
Ephrem Berhanu (Talent Youth Association, Ethiopia): I think donor regulation has to be a mutual partnership valuing the two actors equally. It also needs to give more room for decision-making. Because we are on the ground, we know what is good, what’s working and what’s not working. Smooth communication is also very important to have in order to sort out any challenges that arise from program implementation.
Medha Sharma (Visible Impact, Nepal): The ideal relationship would be where I can speak openly about challenges or success. There’s a bit of hierarchy in this world between donors and partners. If the donor is willing to listen, then I will share the real story and what is happening. Then we can jointly find the solution and resolve those issues. That way we can create greater impact and make sure that the resources are able to achieve what they intended to accomplish. Otherwise, projects come, projects go. They do well, and then people forget about them, but if you want to really create an impact there should be such a relationship where we can communicate openly and share the weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Share, even if we are not going to be successful, and then work on that.
Amanda Brenda Sauta (Youth Response for Social Change, Malawi): To have a mixed relationship, not just a top-down approach. If the donor has something to say, and we also have something to say, we should have an open dialogue where we can come together and talk about the situation, rather than just getting an order from the donor and then having to do it. Sometimes what the donor wants or envisions is not always the reality on the ground, especially in rural communities. Sometimes, the situations are very different and delicate. Sometimes, it needs a different approach.
Christine Sudi (Women Promotion Centre, Kenya): For me, an ideal donor relationship is long term. If we have a partner, we have a working contract or we know we are working together for the next five or 10 years and we can do long-term objectives and strategy because some of the things we’re working on are not achievable in just six months or one year — they need more time. Additionally, as youth-led organizations, we have the will, passion and drive, but maybe we’re lacking in skills or in some technicalities. So, we would like a funder that is willing to look into empowering the organization and structure.
3. How do you explain the importance of youth leadership and participation in AYSRHR?
S.M. Shaikat (SERAC-Bangladesh): Youth leadership is important because it helps develop a concerned, conscious and informed generation, which catalyzes a healthy community. It will enhance the opportunity to create a cohort of the next generation of leaders. Participation at every level of decision-making, designing a concept and implementation are essential to pass on the ownership of a policy change or social development. It is a smart choice to engage young people at the heart of every process, so they grow up informed and empowered, and as they hit their teenage years, they start realizing how their own informed decision-making is necessary for achieving bodily autonomy and eventually having a greater impact in the community.
Nusrat Sharmin Resma (SERAC-Bangladesh): Youth participation in AYSRHR is key to realizing the needs and challenges of youth and adolescents. They feel comfortable sharing their issues when the environment is friendly and service providers are supportive. To ensure active participation of youth, it is essential to include youth as peer volunteers at adolescent health service centers. Again, meaningful and inclusive youth participation in AYSRHR helps young people to make decisions about their bodily rights according to the choice and availability of services.
Peace Ndoya (Youth Response for Social Change, Malawi): The notion that best explains the benefit of engaging youth is: “nothing for us without us.” As young people, we need to take the lead in addressing issues that concern us. We shouldn’t just sit by and expect the older generation to explain things on our behalf because the issues aren’t theirs.
Souvik Pyne (The YPFoundation, India): Young people’s lived realities are very important. The primary beneficiaries and stakeholders must be centrally involved. From that perspective, it’s very, very important to involve young people.