We recently welcomed Nathalie Nkoume to Pathfinder as Adolescent and Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Advisor. Nathalie brings over two decades of experience in youth development and gender programming. Based in Cameroon, she will focus primarily on francophone countries in West Africa, where young people experience some of the most formidable barriers to accessing quality reproductive health care.
What excites you most about your new role at Pathfinder International?
I’m really excited to be at an organization that through its diversity of programs is filling gaps and going where other organizations are not. To me, Pathfinder International is like a laboratory – there is great desire and capacity within the organization to document, learn, test, and implement innovations that fully address the health and well-being of adolescents. There is great motivation to continuously improve approaches for greater impact.
Pathfinder has so many groundbreaking programs that are advancing adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health in different ways. The Beyond Bias program, for example, is so innovative because it goes way beyond just training service providers to offer youth-friendly services. It is about understanding who the service providers are and changing their values. Through Beyond Bias, we encourage service providers to become not just be providers for youth, but also their advocates.
From your years of experience working on issues related to young people’s rights and health, what are some big lessons that you’ve learned that your peers and partners need to know?
Young people are diverse—there is no one approach to adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health that will work across different contexts. It is about addressing the individual needs of the young person.
Young people need to be at the center of decisions that affect their own lives and their own bodies. We need to take their motivations, strengths, challenges into consideration when designing programs meant to serve them.
Young people need to feel more valued, supported, and respected so that they respect themselves and can take care of their own health. To really make an impact, programs for adolescents and youth need to operate within a supportive environment. This doesn’t just mean supportive laws or health facilities, but, equally, changing the narrative at the community level to build more respect and confidence in young people.
Addressing reproductive health issues in a silo will never empower the next generation to be leaders and change-makers. For example, we need to give them the skills and resources they need through access to education and jobs to grow and thrive. This will only come through strategic and thoughtful partnerships with other sectors.
Why should advancing adolescent youth sexual and reproductive health and rights be a global priority?
There are more young people in the world today than ever before, and many of them live in environments where they encounter multiple barriers to reaching their full potential. We need to change this and empower them as leaders so they can be the ones to address our most pressing global challenges going forward. Whether it be economic, environmental, or social issues—they can be the main drivers of change.
What are the biggest challenges to seeing more positive impacts in young people’s health and well-being?
Structural barriers in communities do not give space to young people to be seen and act as leaders. We keep having the same way of thinking of young people as immature and incapable of making their own decisions. Young people, too, often do not have confidence in themselves. We need to change this paradigm and build confidence in the next generation to lead.
How do you think Pathfinder International can help address these challenges?
I think Pathfinder has started doing it already—Pathfinder focuses on the individual young person, giving her the skills, information, opportunity, exposure to succeed, while strengthening community support for her growth and development. This is a comprehensive approach where young people are at the center of intervention – and it builds young people’s resilience.
We’ll finish on a personal note. As the only Pathfinder staff member currently in Cameroon, can you share with us your favorite local food so that we can all get a taste of what you enjoy?
In my community, Ndolé is a favorite. It consists of slightly bitter leaves, mixed with crushed groundnuts, shrimp, and smoked fish that I eat with Miondo – crushed and cooked cassava. It is hearty and slightly bitter, and in Cameroon, we love it!