The Space to Talk and Be Heard

Youth site visit discussion

Youth site visit

This blog can also be read on the Interagency Youth Working Group website.

Conferences like the International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP) are exciting—thousands of advocates, old and new friends and colleagues, and new evidence of what works to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights. But, to be honest, by the last day of a conference, I often find myself completely exhausted. ICFP 2013 was no exception. When Friday rolled around, I started to think I might not have the energy to make it through the day. But, what happened that morning woke me up, inspiring me in ways that you just can’t get in the confines of a conference center.

My colleagues and I boarded a bus with 26 young ICFP participants from 19 different countries for the "Youth Defining Quality" site visit organized by Pathfinder International. The site visit was designed specifically for youth participants at ICFP and was supported by the Integrated Family Health Project (IFHP), a Pathfinder-led reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health program in Ethiopia.

Our destination? The Mikawa Health Center, a public health facility IFHP has supported to establish youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services about 1.5 hours outside of Addis Ababa. Upon arriving at the health center we were greeted by the singing and dancing of our welcoming committee—a group of 20 Ethiopian youth, all peer educators from Mikawa and neighboring communities. The fun had begun.

The 46 young people gathered together and began a frank and open discussion about what young people want and need from sexual and reproductive health services.  All the while, those over the age of 25 sat and really listened to the youth – something we don’t do enough.

The presence of powerful, dynamic young leaders at ICFP 2013 demonstrated, yet again, that young people know what they want and what they have a right to.We heard a young woman from Ethiopia tell us how critical privacy and confidentiality are, and a young man from Liberia tell us that services must be designed to be sustainable.  A young man from Tanzania spoke up about the importance of providing services that are tailored to the needs and human rights of young key populations, like men who have sex with men. The young people shared their experiences with services that were respectful of their rights and with services that were not.

As they talked, they began to transform their ideas into action. Participants used the opportunity to share the idea of a youth-led global alliance in support of family planning and young people’s rights. The group’s energy was palpable as they agreed to kick off the alliance with a photo and a proud declaration of “We are family planning!”

The time to leave came all too soon. After a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony and a tour of the youth-friendly service rooms, we boarded the buses. On the way back, there wasn’t one moment of silence—the dialogue had begun and there was no stopping it now.

Seeing the real work of dedicated providers and program staff who work with young people to help fulfill their rights is inspiring on its own, but to experience that with 46 young people is transformational.

The presence of powerful, dynamic young leaders at ICFP 2013 demonstrated, yet again, that young people know what they want and what they have a right to. They know what quality sexual and reproductive health services for youth look like and what should be done to ensure they are available. It is time we listen and act together.

For more information on the newly-formed  International Youth Alliance on Family Planning, please email join.iyafp@gmail.com.

Callie Simon

Callie Simon is Pathfinder International's Technical Advisor for Adolescent and Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health.

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