The prejudice that a young person doesn’t have the capacity to raise awareness, lead or organize…
José Chimbe, APCOP, Santa Cruz, Bolivia
In both Bolivia and Nicaragua, children and youth count for over the half of the countries’ populations. The UN defines the youth population of the world as people that are in the age between 15 and 24 years old. In 1995, the youth population counted for 18 percent of the world’s population, and in the UN report “World Program of Action for Youth” (2010) they estimate that by 2025 the world youth population will increase to 89 per cent. The vast majority of the youth population lives in developing countries, and especially the youth become most vulnerable to the social, political and economic challenges of their countries and societies.
In many processes of society the “adultism”, the power that adults have over children, underestimate the power of the youth and discriminate youth as they are not taken into count for in decision making. The UN Convention on Children’s Rights from 1990 was promoted on four general principals to protect children’s’ civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, and thereby make sure that children are aware of their own rights. Traditionally, children are not recognized to have rationality, insight or capacity to act on their own interest.
“There’s not a lot of youth participation in the communities because of discrimination and the fact that their words are not given a lot of value”, says Maria Perez Mendoza, a 21 years old student at the university UNIBOL (La Universidad Indigena Boliviana) in Macheretí in the region of Chuquisaka in Bolivia. She says that to get the attention from the youth and motivate them to participate in their communities it is important to run activities that will call for their attention, through ways that are more appealing to the youth, and give training and information about themes that concerns them.
In the strategic plan of CEDEHCA, one of the principal goals is to diminish the invisibility of children and youth in the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua, and their mission is to “contribute to youth empowerment in the Caribbean Coast through the promotion of leadership, organization and active and efficient youth participation in the different spaces of decision making related to the development of its communities and the development of the Caribbean Coast in general”.
CEADL was created by a group of young people in the city of El Alto in Bolivia in 1997, demanding that the youth should be recognized as important actors of the city. They later became a collective creation of groups of young people, together with professionals, interested in human rights and youth participation in social movements. Today, a big part of the organizations’ work with youth is guidance and training to youth organizations for them to have enough capacity to run their own projects that has to do with youth and human rights.
Throughout this whole exchange program we have met enthusiastic young people with a burning will to make a change in their own communities or societies. Through the organizations they have been given the space and the confidence to speak on behalf of their own generation and the reality in which they live. They know the needs and the problems that the youth are facing, and they need the equipment to do something about it. Being aware of their needs and for themselfes to come with suggestions for solutions is an important part of the process of enpowerment.
Young activist from JENH RAAN presents the work they have done in their communities last year.
A lot of the children and youth we have met through CEADL in Bolivia and JENH-CEDEHCA in Nicaragua have been given the confidence to speak up, knowing that their voice matters. In September we went with a group from CEADL Sucre to an event in Cochabamba about climate changes, and the youngest participants at the forum were as young as 11 – 12 years old. In the presence of the whole forum, discussing political initiatives, a young girl stands up and says, “We have to change the way we talk about climate changes. There’s always excited climate changes. We are talking about serious changes provoked about by human actions, and that’s what destroys our planet”.
According to the UNDP, the capacity of the youth is important for a sustainable human development, as the youth are capable of acting and generating changes according to their own values and goals. The youth is the capacity for change as they are in their formation process and therefore can make the changes that will direct the course of the development of their societies and their own development.
In Nicaragua we have traveled around to different communities and visited the local groups of JENH-CEDEHCA. In Bluefields we’ve been traveling to indigenous and afro descendants communities to promote a new project called Run For Food, which is an international program that brings packages of food supplements to families in the communities who needs it the most. With the food delivering, the organization will also give training to the population of the communities about sexual and reproductive health, drug and alcohol abuse, violence against women and other themes that are relevant for the reality of the population.
In Pearl Lagoon, the youth coordinator of the organization gathered around 20 teenagers whom all together delivered food supplements to about 170 families. the teenagers went all around their community to to the families they knew needed it most, with a lot of energy and goodwill to contribute to their community.
The youth of Pearl Lagoon delivering food supplement to families in their community.
The next day we went with the same group of teenagers for a picnic and got the opportunity to talk to some of them about their participation in JENH, the youth movement of CEDEHCA, and their wishes and hopes for their community and for their own future. “I want to come back and serve my community after I finish my studies”, said 17 years old Conway. These days he is working on a scholarship to go to either León or Cuba to study medicine. He’ll have to leave his community to get the education he wants, but wants to come back and contribute to a better future for Pearl Lagoon. It is clear that the teenagers are aware of the problems in their community, but is at the same time proud of it and willing to work for a better future for themselves and for further generations.
The excitement and volunteerism amongst the teenagers in Pearl Lagoon was impressive. I don’t think I heard one of them complain as they ran around under the burning sun delivering the food to the neediest. They are concerned about what is happening around them and for the challenges in their community, they know that they are important actors for positive changes to happen; they take responsibility and they are making changes for a better future.
Being in Bolivia, we joined Red Virus (Vías de Intercambio y Razonamiento de Unión Social) on a weekend seminar they held for their members. Red Virus is a network of members from different youth organizations in Bolivia that focuses on sexual and reproductive health. With the help from CEADL they run activities, seminars and festivals in the different departments of Bolivia, in high-schools, universities and quarters in the military service. The members of Red Virus got the necessary training from CEADL, along with necessary materials, to get the information and capacity they need to run the activities they want to. In some cases they need an authorization from the local City Halls or other higher institutions to enter the high-schools or to run other activities. In this processes, CEADL helps the organization to get access. Going to the different places to talk to young people on themes about human rights and sexual and reproductive rights, the members of Red Virus often experience that the youth has a lot of questions and doubts regarding the themes, and with the capacity given to the young activists of Red Virus, they have the information and knowledge to answer to the questions and doubts that their audience might have.
Group activity with Red Virus about sexual and reproductive health.
At the seminar with Red Virus, the youth activists gathered to discuss strategies for the next year, talk about new information, practicing activities and discussing themes and the future of the organization. There was a lot of participation from the activists of RedVirus. People from CEADL was there to guide and help in any way they could, but the activists ran the event and the structure of it, and they were well organized and focused on their work and the importance of it.
In societies with a lot of different cultures and traditions, as in Nicaragua and Bolivia, the youth organization can meet prejudices and skepticism that challenges the work they want to do for the youth, both in cities as well as in the communities. In some communities in Bolivia you’re not recognized as a leader or person of influence unless you’re married. In some communities in both RAAN and RAAS in Nicaragua, it’s often challenging to get woman to participate if there are also men in participating in the activities. Some cultures won’t let woman participate in the same way as men can.
The activists of Red Virus expressed the challenges they face when they run their activities especially at the high-schools. Sometimes they are not given permission to do the activities they want to because of the subjects they’re teaching. They have been told that giving training and information about sexual and reproductive health and rights will encourage young women to have sexual relations and to get pregnant, which makes their goal to reach youth and spread information about the theme harder to achieve.
The youth activists of JENH in RAAN expressed challenges on recruiting more young people to their organization because of the stereotype that some citizens have made of the organization. Because of their work with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people’s rights and the sexual diversity among the young activist, some citizens say that if you join the organization it means you’re lesbian or gay, or that you will become one. And in some cases it scares young potential activists away from the organization.
The youth of Bolivia is currently working on a draft on a general youth law in the country, while Nicaragua had their youth law approved in 2002, called Ley No. 392 – Ley de Promoción del Desarrollo Integral de la Juventud. The analyses of the National Youth Law in Bolivia express the importance of this law as “young people can be the best agents of their own development and the development of the country.” It is therefore important to formulate a public politic and an institution to support and strengthen the capacities of young people. The aim of the Youth Law in Nicaragua is promoting human development of young men and woman, trough guaranteeing them their right, establishing political institutions and mobilizing the resources from the state and the society to the youth.
In the UNs World Program of Actions for Youth it says: “The United Nations has long recognized that the imagination, ideals and energies of young people are vital for the continuing development of the societies in which they live”. (2010) The Youth Law in general is to put these values of the youth into a system that protects them and provides them the right to involve themselves in political decisions and other processes of the society relevant for their own development.
Youth organizations are important forums for developing skills necessary for effective participation in society, promoting tolerance and increased cooperation and exchanges between youth organization. (UN World Program Action for Youth, 2010)
The organizations we’ve been with throughout this exchange program have a huge commitment to children and youth, and it’s clear that their work has contributed to a greater empowerment amongst the young people involved in the organizations in Bolivia and Nicaragua. As mentioned, the young people are given the space and capacity to create their own ways of change and build a better future for themselves and next generations. JENH can count for about 500 young activists in both of the autonomous regions of the Atlantic Coast that works for their cities and communities through the training they’ve been given by the organization.
CEADL has expanded to a national level with presence in 7 departments of Bolivia. Their involvement covers a broad specter of the Bolivian civil and political society and they are a huge resource for young people that want to get organized. They train young people in questions of human rights and leadership and gives the youth organizations the capacity they need to run the activities and workshops that they want for their organizations.
My overall impression of this exchange has definitely been the amount of commitment from young people to the development of their own community, country and generation. They have learned that their voice and actions are important and necessary for the society through the work that the organizations, JENH-CEDEHCA and CEADL, does, giving them the tools they need for them create positive changes.