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In partnership with The Challenge Initiative (TCI), we are proud to share stories that illustrate the positive impact that family planning has on women and low-income communities around the world. Published monthly, these stories aim to capture the perspectives of women and their communities that benefit from TCI’s efforts and the dedicated individuals working to empower women with access to family planning.
By Youth, For Youth: How Young Leaders are Reshaping the Global Reproductive Health Conversation
For many young women, their 16th birthday is a celebration of their unofficial transition into adulthood.
But Dimple Ferolino's "Sweet Sixteen" will likely involve feeding, changing, and caring for a newborn – an all-too-real acceleration into adult responsibility. Currently 15 and pregnant with her first child, Dimple's story demonstrates how a lack of family planning resources and tools (such as contraceptive materials) can raise the prevalence of teen pregnancy in high-risk communities.
While Dimple did not have access to family planning information and guidance while growing up in Santos City in the Philippines, she is now leading the charge to ensure future generations do. Earlier this year, Dimple spoke before officials at a local TCI-hosted ‘Early Pregnancy and Youth Summit’, advocating for new programs to support both young women raising families and those considering it.
Just like Dimple, today's youth possess an ever-growing set of skills, knowledge, and self-esteem. With a growing push for engagement, youth leaders are welcoming the responsibility of preparing the next wave of potential game-changers, those who will lead family planning into the future in their region.
Organizations such as TCI have recognized local youth’s eagerness to make a change. They see young people as a key component for success. By nominating and training dedicated adolescents in every community, TCI has established a strong force of youth ambassadors, who act as friends and in addition can give guidance on family planning and contraception.
Trusted Faces and Voices
By deploying more youth leaders, organizations such as TCI are aiming to break barriers. They want young people to open up to "those who look and sound more like them," and who can relate to their challenges and emotional needs.
As Isa’ac has learned, this commitment to diligence requires youth leaders to act, dress and talk like those they serve. It also leverages the younger generation's understanding of where and how to best reach their target demographic. Often, this also involves establishing and encouraging open conversation among social channels, digital applications and websites young women and men are most likely to visit. TCI has also recognized the potential of leveraging youth-populated channels to extend the conversation beyond a single moment in time.
In 2020, TCI launched "My Choice, My Future," a digital media campaign focused on promoting adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health in Francophone West Africa. During the five-week campaign, TCI youth leaders partnered with local healthcare providers to host WhatsApp and Facebook group chats. The conversations provided facts and resources for additional information, busted myths and addressed participants' questions and concerns around unique weekly topics. By the end of the campaign, more than 22,000 young people engaged in the Facebook chats, with another 500-plus exchanging messages and dialogue through WhatsApp. It was a visible success.
Visible and Vocal
As young leaders assume more prominent roles, they are receiving more better opportunities to engage and influence their communities. In many areas, young people literally have a seat at the table in government and civic planning meetings, serving as idea generators and representatives of the populations they serve. For health providers and political decision makers, young leaders are trusted to provide insights that will ensure family planning and sexual health programs resonate.
In Nigeria, Isa’ac and his team serve as the bridge between health and government teams, and youth rights advocates. In addition, school and church leaders often turn to him for information and guidance. The Nigeria ambassador team even serves as "secret clients" who evaluate healthcare providers and assess whether their services and efficiency are truly reaching the youth. If not, TCI offers trainings to make healthcare providers aware of how to better reach and support young people, which is often a welcomed gesture and can have a big impact. Isa’ac emphasizes "We can't make decisions for the youth without engaging the youth".
A Brighter Future
As the conversation around family planning and reproductive health takes new shape over time, youth influencers must remain aware of changes in laws, emerging myths, and trending topics among younger audiences. Young ambassadors hope that someday they will sit on the other side of the table – as the leaders working with the next generation of inspired youth to drive change
"Serving as a youth ambassador has helped me grow in so many ways and pursue new opportunities to make a difference in my community," said Isa’ac. "I now have the confidence to go to a radio station and present and share messaging around contraception and child spacing."