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Youth Power!

Reflecting on the Learning Event for Youth Ambassadors

By: Emma Mengo, activist from Initiative for Equality and Non-Discrimination (INEND), Kenya, and Ronald van Moorten, Researcher at Oxfam Novib.

On the 19th of October 2019, Oxfam Novib and Voice co-hosted the Learning Event Youth Power: Making Space for Young Ideas to Create Social Change. Emma, a staff member of INEND, a previous Voice empowerment grantee was invited to join the event as a panelist and attend the NOW-Us! Awards 2019 Ceremony at the Partos Innovation Festival.

Here are some of her reflections!

Mid-2019 I received an email inviting me to join and lead with other young activists a Learning Event on youth power: a series of youth-led workshops, presentations and discussions on how donors and (I)NGOs can best support youth activism.

I don’t know about you but I was already sold at youth activism!

My name is Emma Mengo and I am a young Kenyan woman residing in Mombasa, Kenya and was honoured to join the Youth Power! learning event in The Hague. I currently work at the Initiative for Equality and Non-Discrimination (INEND), a community-based organisation established in 2015 in Mombasa, that addresses violence towards Sexual and Gender Minorities (SGMs). INEND had previously partnered with Voice in a project titled ‘An Evidence-Based Collective Action to Strengthen Lesbian, Bisexual and Queer (LBQ) leadership in Kenya’.

During the learning event, I was joined by other young activists from Africa and Asia, namely Somaliland, Egypt, Tunisia, Nigeria and Pakistan. My meeting these six other young trailblazers felt familiar. It was like we were living in the same country because I related to their stories and challenges with so much ease! They were young people like me who were putting in the work to challenge bad governance and corruption, inhumane cultural practices and discrimination of minority groups. This is not the feeling of home I would envision for anyone but I felt right at ‘home’ with people I was meeting for the first time.

The Youth Power! learning event was co-organised by Oxfam Novib and Voice. We had the honour of having 6 young activists from all over the world, who co-designed the event and joined us for a day of learning and sharing, with over 70 participants. The young leaders facilitated a reflection on youth activism and new ways of inclusion for young women and men. They challenged the participants to take this up in their programming and policies being NGOs and donors. I had the privilege to coordinate the organisation of the event and work with young activists such as Emma to shape the day. The passion, determination and innovative ways of working for these young leaders made it an impressionable event. Young people are indeed the future. Their voices need to be heard and included, right here and now.

Ronald van Moorten, Researcher, Oxfam Novib

The theme of the event sat squarely within the realm of my daily work and cause. We spent 5 days together in The Hague, which allowed us to jointly prepare for the event. These preparations involved getting to know each other with each young activist introducing their area of work, what inspired them to that cause and the challenges they generally face, creating content for presentations and panel discussions as well as some learning from the Oxfam staff.

During the learning event, we shared our work in poster presentations, led a series of workshops and engaged in a debate with Tijmen Rooseboom, Ambassador for Youth, Education and Employment, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I presented to four different groups of participants periodically on access (read lack of) to healthcare services by Sexual and Gender Minorities in Kenya due to the anti-homosexuality and punitive laws that are in place. I also highlighted the measures that INEND and other similar organisations in Kenya are taking to change the narrative.

Emma making a presentation on the steps that have been taken

During the workshop, I was paired with an amazing woman from Somaliland advancing for the rights of young girls and went against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). We tackled how Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights, Gender Norms and Behavioural Change restricts the work that we do. We led conversations with participants on the achievements so far, challenges and tabled recommendations which we later shared with the larger group.

During the panel debate, we held discussions on how donors can best support youth activists, given that most do not operate under established and organised groups and what donors and INGOs can do to protect civic space and youth activists.

After the learning event, I got a chance to attend the Partos Innovation Festival in Amsterdam which was an avenue for networking and exchanging of ideas, new trends and innovations amongst individuals, private and public organisations.

My favourite activities of the day were attending the target led advocacy session, listening to keynote speakers, Yetnebersh Nigussie and Nidhi Goyal who spoke oh, so passionately, about creating equal opportunities for people with disabilities! Best take away from Partos? I still think about the cheer and inspiration the Now-Us! Awards brought and shall we talk about dancing to Syrian music? That was spectacular!

Yote tisa, kumi…. is a Swahili phrase that directly translates to ‘All nine, ten’ to mean that there is so much that can be said about something but only one thing can be emphasised. For me, that one thing is that I had the most extensive and practical learning and networking experience of all time. All the events that I attended during this trip were a success! I could see and was inspired by the fact that everyone is working to change something unpleasant in society. If I were to pay for the knowledge I gained through these events; I am sure I couldn’t afford it, not to mention that I got a chance to visit the International Court of Justice and attend a session of the Hague Talks! (The lawyer in me could not contain the excitement!)

The five days in The Hague were the best days of my 2019. Hands down! One thing I could not come to terms with, however, was the (what until then I considered impossible) low temperatures! I have lived in the Coast of Kenya my whole life where temperatures rarely go below 25°C; it was a bit hilarious how I was almost always the only person in the room who was all layered up! All in all, I would do it again, I would meet everyone I met all over again, have the conversations all over again, walk down the streets on the Hague all over again and eat bread; which happened to weirdly make up a huge part of every meal!

The Youth Power! Team with in the back Tijmen Rooseboom, Youth Ambassador with Dutch MOFA

Voice wants to send special thanks to Emma and Ronald for sharing their thoughts with us! Click here for more information on all the participants of the 2019 Youth Power learning event.

For more information about the Learning Event “Youth Power: Making Space for Young Ideas to Create Social Change” feel free to contact Ronald via Ronald.Moorten@oxfamnovib.nl.


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