June 6, European Development Days (EDD) in Brussels. The brainstorming lab with 20 young participants starts off with a sparkling video in which young leader Shakira Choonara from South Africa explains about the concept of the Youth Quake. How can we embolden young leaders, how can we stimulate them to create an earth quake in sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), how can we let a powerful youth movement create a volcano that works as a game changer? Together we can do it!
Facilitator Esenam Amuzu (23 years) from Ghana takes the floor: “I feel privileged to be at the EDD today, where I engaged in the Young Leader Programme in 2017 for the first time. I saw a message on Facebook and for me it was an opportunity to do something crazy with a curious mind. Together with Tasneem Omar Ava (24 years) from Bangladesh we hope to take you on an inspiring and experiential brainstorming lab on how to strengthen youth participation in empowerment programs.”
One participant, a youth leader from Nigeria, shares his opinion that prosperity in Africa lies in Nigeria, where the young generation can bring the change: “We have a huge population growth, almost 200 million people of which the median age is 18 years young. Most people suffer from malnutrition, there is no access to services, and that gives me a cause of alarm, it gives me a feeling that we have to act now!”. He continues with his personal motivation: “Many young girls get pregnant too young, and their education is cut off because they have to care for their children because others don’t do it. That’s why I would like to work for comprehensive sexuality education and SRHR. I want young people to make informed decisions. I want them to negotiate about the use of condoms and that they can be what they want to be. I will talk to activists who go to conferences. We need to be bold, and we need to fight for a future for Nigeria. I would love to have two girls, not boys. Ladies are super strong and we need to protect them and give them access to information.” Everyone in the room gives him a big hand.
What is your footprint?
Co-facilitator Susan van Esch, programme manager at Dance4Life, thanks everyone for being here and sharing stories: “You can truly have a huge impact”. She introduces the next exercise by asking everyone who they admire. Someone shouts: “Esenam! I admire her much, she is working so hard, and I am so grateful to know her.” Then each of the group starts individually making a footprint of his/her own foot on a piece paper. Left foot: the person you admire. And five characteristics. Right foot: your own name and things that others will remember about you in five years. Interesting different answer come up, when the footprints of the role models are shared: ‘my mom’, ‘my best friend’, ‘a girl I met recently’ and why you admire this person: ‘passionate’, ‘patient’, ‘helpful’, ‘curious’, ‘lots of humour’, ‘communicative’. The participants reflect together how the exercise made them feel, and most of them agree that – however it wasn’t easy – the footprint gave them a good insight in who you want to be and what your ambition is.
“Self is the change, and hence the Journey4Life is about personal leadership and also self-confidence”
Youth Empowerment Model
Susan explains that the Footprint is one of the first sessions of the Journey4Life, the curriculum for young people that is the basis of Dance4Life’s youth empowerment model. In this model, the core belief is that real change comes from within. Self is the change, and hence the Journey4Life is about personal leadership and also self-confidence. If you are empowered to make choices about your personal life, you can also make choices about your sexual life. “We also question social norms about sexuality in the Journey, and talk about gender equality: how do you look upon challenging norms, how do you relate to others and how does the society in which you live, handle with social and gender norms?”. Clearly the Journey is not only about knowledge, but also about competencies on how to understand your own emotions, and skills on how to reflect upon your aims and future.
Brainstorm: young people and their needs are at the core
After a short break to share thoughts about the Journey, Esenam and Tasneem take the floor to invite everyone to the brainstorm in two groups about how to engage young people in decision and policy making. Esenam: “We would like to stimulate creating big ideas and picking the best big idea, about seeing and recognizing young people as valuable actors, listening to them for being there – no tokenism, and also giving young people the space to let them being recognized”. After intensive discussions, the groups present their solutions, ranging from ensuring that young people should be involved in key decisions, but also access funding for such work, to making sure that youth-adult partnerships, which is based on mutual learning are key to communicate effectively.
” We want young people being seen and recognized as valuable actors, listening to them for being there”
Inspirational stories about change
Courtney Gehle (23 years) from South-Africa, initiator of The Better Tomorrow Movement and working at Global Changemakers and UNIDO, concludes with a lively speech: “I wanted to change the whole world. Now I am working as an activist, campaigner, advocate. My main question always was: how can I create meaningful change? How can I get involved, where can I go? Since I couldn’t find anything at my university my friend and I created our own organisation”. She continues with a question: “Do you know the word ‘gumption’? It means: spirited initiatives and resourcefulness: this is what engaged young people do!” Courtney comes up with several examples of engaged young people worldwide: Montaro from Mexico, 22 years, who was bullied, and now works in 80 schools and reaches 4.500 teachers and 100.000 students with his anti-bullying program in his country. Or Mark, 23 years old from the Filipines, who created light for families who never had access to electricity, in order for the children to do their homework. Or Ellen, 22 years form Malawi, who started a microfinance mechanism for young women that want to start a business but could not get a loan form the bank. Or Navo from Sri Lanka, 25 years, who started an organisation to build capacity of young people in over 40 countries: now they have representatives who give trainings, digital advocacy, a global ambassador program, community talk series, a mentorship program. Courtney: “You are never too young or too old to make a difference. Just be yourself, do what you are good at and believe in yourself, and then everyone can lead to change!”.
Conclusion: we all can make a change
Tasneem concludes the session by adding: “You don’t have to do it alone. There are so many young people that have fantastic ideas to make change and impact. You also don’t have to be an expert or in a powerful position: just be passionate!”. And that’s the spirit we take back home.