ChildFund’s philosophy of work emphasizes respecting the voices of children and youth, aligning our work with what we learn from them and incorporating their evaluation of progress as an important factor in how we measure our success.
How, exactly, do we implement this intention?
Earlier this year in Ethiopia, ChildFund staff held discussions with more than 100 youth spread across both rural and urban communities to make sure new and existing programs address the appropriate issues. At the end of each discussion, participants identified key issues affecting them in their particular communities and then prioritized the issues.
Several common concerns emerged from all groups, from early marriage to family health problems. For example, one group of girls, ages 15-19, generated and then rank-ordered their top issues in this order: substance abuse, unsafe environment, high school dropouts, too little family care and support, peer pressure, bad role models and too few job opportunities.
The discussions yielded a constellation of information that helps ChildFund now focus on the key issues of youth employment preparation, reproductive health and the need for life skills.
Across all discussion groups, lack of access to information and lack of support were also pervasive themes. One thread throughout all the issues that affect youth was a sense of hopelessness, whether the participants were urban or rural, married or not, in school or out.
Some positive things became clear, as well. First, youth are very much able to articulate what is right and what is needed in their communities. Once a trusting relationship is established in the course of discussion, young people are able to map out the barriers to transitioning successfully from adolescence to young adulthood.
It was also clear that, alongside adult mentors, young people play a critical role as co-hosts and co-facilitators of youth discussions. Because peers connect well with peers, the exchanges are richer, more real and substantive.
Most of all, youth want to be involved. They relish the opportunity to be listened to. In responding to that desire, ChildFund provides opportunities for youth to be heard and to be part of the solution.