Post-2015 Agenda, Rights

Why Are Youth Voices Around the World So Valuable?

Insight for the article provided by Nick Oketch

As a college student passionate about empowering youth and improving conditions in developing countries, I have thought about the ways and means to making a difference. I asked myself, “How can I, personally, make a difference to help create sustainable change?” I brainstormed about what areas needed the most attention. My thoughts and ideas grew out of information I had come across, articles read, conversations with people who worked in NGOs, and on my experiences from a volunteer trip to Tanzania two years ago. When Girl’s Globe launched their #YouthVoices campaign, I suddenly understood that I was not thinking about igniting change in the best, most efficient way possible. I was basing my ideas off of only my personal experiences and own education. I realized that even though I had great intentions, if I wanted to make positive change for youth around the world, I would be required to speak and engage with the youth directly. Who better to ask about changes for youth than the youth themselves?

A few months ago I was fortunate enough to come into contact with one of Women Deliver’s Young Leaders, Nick Oketch, through Twitter. Nick is a remarkable leader who runs the Paradigm Youth Network Organization (P.Y.N.O.) in Nairobi, Kenya and is in charge of an orphanage that acts as a refuge center for children. I reached out to Nick to assist and advise me on the running of a little experiment. The purpose of my experiment was to demonstrate the importance of youth-led advocacy around the world by demonstrating the insight youth can provide that a third-party may be unable to foster. For my experiment I created three questions revolving around youth-led advocacy and the important issues youth face. I answered the questions myself by attempting to take on the perspective of a young female living in a poor, rural slum in Kenya. Then I sent Nick and the youth in his orphanage the questions to answer. Finally, I compared my answers to theirs. My questions were:

  • What are the biggest issues facing your [youth] community?
  • How can other people and/or organizations encourage youth advocacy?
  • How can youth themselves take the first step to becoming an advocate of change and subsequently igniting change?

My answer to the first question was that major issues revolved around unequal education, improper nutrition, and malaria/HIV/other infectious diseases. My answer to the second question was people and organizations can encourage youth advocacy by empowering youth through motivation and encouragement. Advocates can inform and encourage youth to know their ideas matter, while affirming their ideas by reaching out directly. Establishing confidence, motivating, and encouraging will enable them. These organizations and individuals should additionally take the time to discuss issues with the youth thus prompting stimulating conversation bringing about enthusiasm for change. My answer to the third question was I believe the initial step to becoming an advocate and igniting subsequent change is to educate yourself and make opportunities happen, instead of waiting for them to happen on their own. Reach out and speak to people in the communities firsthand as their experience and network are so valuable.

Nick and the youth in the P.Y.N.O responded to the questions, and I immediately noticed one difference. They provided elaborate detail and were so specific-especially related to the first question. They said the largest issues children are facing in the poor slums of Kenya are female genital mutilation, poverty, lack of proper education, harmful cultural practices (such as forced marriage), and child labor. I learned these are reasons for deteriorating socio-economic conditions and lack of development in Kenya. I also became aware of intricacies of about their cultural beliefs I had not known previously (which would be essential to incorporate into any effective public health education). Next, they answered that the state should be more involved and reach out to empower youth and explained how in the past politicians had used the power of youth to create chaos. Instead of using youth for destruction, people should direct youth energy in positive ways (these were two powerful ideas that never occurred to me). Additionally, they stated by reaching out to youth and encouraging them to use their voices will inspire youth-led advocacy (a common idea we both had!). They discussed how youth should use social media platforms to their advantage, which made me realize my friendship with Nick is just one example of the relationships social media platforms can form. Finally, they said there are several steps that youth should take to become advocates. The steps are youths must determine what is it they want to change (something I am trying to do), understand the system they are working within, discover what works and what doesn’t within the system, create new steps and habits that form new parts of the system, and be persistent. Nick concluded with:

“When these steps are followed and applied, youths can create everlasting change!”

YouthVoices2I am so grateful to have received this information. It has helped expand my own knowledge of the many issues youth in Kenya and around the world are facing, which was the purpose of my experiment! We had answers that overlapped and then some new from each other. I was amazed by some of the innovative thoughts they had. I could not be as specific and detailed as Nick and the P.Y.N.O participants because I still have a lot to learn and understand. However, my experiment helps prove the benefits of listening and speaking to the youth themselves.

If you want to help empower youth and make changes, you need to directly engage with the youth and their community themselves. This is vital if we are to help improve conditions for the youth around the world. I believe it will be a combination of both internal and external efforts working together that will help transform societies. They not only provide a fresh perspective but also can provide detailed insight into their issues. I drew in on my experiences and they drew in on theirs, thus we were able to have an array of information and ideas about the questions. Different minds working toward a goal allow for best chance of transformation. If we combine thoughts, we can be extremely successful. It is a powerful feeling knowing that I, a youth in the United States, is talking with youth in Kenya about how and where to create change. This type of intertwined advocacy should not just be exercised between two groups of youth. Both youth led and adult led advocacy should intertwine to order to yield sustainable change. Every voice is of value and matters!