Why we need to unleash the power of
young people to fight poverty
Our guest blogger for International Youth Day is James Cheung, 22, from Hampshire in the UK. He recently volunteered in Uganda with Restless Development and shares his thoughts about the importance of young people’s involvement in development.
“To unleash the power of young people, we need to partner with them.” Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General
Earlier this year I spent three months volunteering on a sexual health project in a small rural community in Eastern Uganda. The programme was run by Restless Development and was part of the UK Department for International Development’s International Citizen Service (ICS). As a team of four volunteers (two national, two international) we engaged with young people aged 15 to 35 in the local community.
“We all know the passion, dedication and skills that young people have to offer. It is this that will be the real driving force to bring about change, and to really help tackle poverty locally.” David Cameron, UK Prime Minister.
The activities we coordinated included:
● Workshops on topics including HIV stigma and discrimination; STI knowledge and prevention; gender rights.
● Events including health centre talks; condom demonstrations and distribution; HIV voluntary counseling and testing to over 300 people in a day.
● Establishing youth groups and partnerships with local organisations.
Working so closely with driven and passionate peers gave me an insight into the power of grassroots movements. I found that prominent themes of development discussions worldwide - whether education, health, poverty or employment - resonate with young people, whether in the global North or South. Daily debates with smart, ambitious students ran counter to the intense sugar cane farming outside classroom doors; a community with limited electricity and running water.
Faith Izid, the ICS Volunteer Team Leader in Kampala shared her experiences with me. “In Uganda some children come from purely urban areas and others from purely rural areas. For six months, I worked with rural young people in a village where few have access to education, many live in grass thatched houses and few schools are lucky to have facilities like chairs.
Youths are the leaders of tomorrow who will make a healthy and developed Uganda. Uganda has hope in young people to redeem the country from its pressing issues like illiteracy, ignorance, poverty and disease. Working with volunteers from UK helped me meet people who shared development ideas and gave me a picture of the developed world.
Young people can work with others worldwide by developing partnerships both at individual and institutional levels. Being part of the struggle to push back HIV; becoming an agent of change and development are some of the reasons why I chose to volunteer.”
One of the objectives of Restless Development’s International Citizen Service programme is to create active citizens. As inheritors of the Millennium Development Goals legacy, the millennial generation has a vital role to play in shaping the development agenda. A post-2015 framework must engage youth voices to ensure approaches that target relevant issues.
Here’s why. In developing countries, over 87% of the population is under 25. Worldwide, the youth unemployment rate is projected to increase from 12.4% last year to 12.8% by 2018.
“Millennials support issues, not institutions - and they need to see the difference they are making” Libby Leffler, Global Partnerships, Facebook*
Young people are results driven - a generation of internet searchers and viral campaigners. New tools allow collaboration on movements such as the Student Stop Aids Campaign. News is no longer today’s broadsheet, but live voices that can be held to account by anyone, anywhere.
The impact on policy makers is that the global discussion surrounding development is brought to them. Technology and the removal of access barriers allow ever-broader participation.
As custodians of the post-2015 framework young people have a responsibility to ensure impactful, measurable targets and change. On my final day at school in Uganda the students clamoured for a “remembrance”, something to remember me by - photos, t-shirts, my watch. This struck me as a uniquely youth approach, sentimental yet demanding.
James is taking over Restless Development’s social media for International Youth Day, so follow him on @RestlessDev, www.facebook.com/restlessdev or search for #IYD2013 and #ICSyouth2013.