Change will come: International Youth Day 2015

Governance, Rights, Youth

For International Youth Day 2015, youth activists involved in Oxfam’s My Rights, My Voice (MRMV) programme explain how they’ve been campaigning to bring about change in access to health and education services.

Young people can play a vital role in reducing poverty and transforming their societies. Their potential to do so has never been greater, as children and youth now account for almost half the world’s population. The youth population is growing fastest in some of the poorest countries in which Oxfam works. In Pakistan, 55% of the population is under-25; in Afghanistan the figure is 64%; in Niger 69%; and in Tanzania 64% (from the CiA
World Fact Book

Oxfam’s My Right’s, My Voice programme (MRMV) supports children and young people to increase their knowledge of their rights, raise awareness amongst their peers, and speak out to claim their rights to health and education services. Below, youth campaigners from the eight countries where MRMV operates talk about their dreams for their
country’s future and share their experiences, including campaigning on child marriage, convincing parents to allow daughters to go to school, and lobbying political leaders on health care provision.


Freshta*, aged 20, MRMV girls’ youth group leader

“We ran awareness-raising sessions for families and their daughters on the importance of education.”
The biggest problem we face here is girls who stop going to school because their families won’t allow them to finish. We only have one school here and most girls have to walk long distances to reach it. We did advocacy training in our youth group, and after that we met with government ministries, and they agreed to build a school. It was us who convinced them.”

“We also ran awareness-raising sessions for families and their daughters on the importance of education. Now, 15 girls are allowed to go to school, and even more will go once the new school is built. Before joining the youth group, I just went to school and came home again. Now I am a member of the community and can help change it. People have seen that all girls have the power to bring about change, and I feel like I can make an important difference.”


Giorgi, aged 18, MRMV Youth Advisory Board member

Giorgi, MRMV Youth Advisory Board member in Georgia. Credit: DEA/Oxfam“Through MRMV, young people in Georgia get a chance to express their opinions and participate in different national campaigning and awareness-raising activities.”

“My biggest experience with MRMV was taking part in a Youth Forum dedicated to International Children’s Day, where I presented on health rights and child-friendly health systems. I hope that everyone in Georgia and all over the world is able to benefit from their right to health services, particularly children who need special care.”


Aissa, aged 21, Youth Advisory Board memberAissa, MRMV Youth Advisory Board member in Mali. Credit: Sitan Cisse/Oxfam

What I like about MRMV is that it gives power to young people to act themselves. It gives them the space to express their needs, connect with decision-makers and claim their rights for a better future.”

Now we know we can organise advocacy activities and ask for an audience with any ministers. A future world where everybody is safe and secure is possible if we can educate each other and work together to claim our rights.”


Guru, aged 14, Secretary of the MRMV Children’s Health Committee

Guru, Secretary of the MRMV Children's Health Committee in Nepal. Credit: Laxmi Bist and Parbati KC/Oxfam“In our country, the government runs health posts but it is difficult for people to reach them; pregnant women and children have to walk for up to three hours. We have taken issues like these to central decision-makers”

“We also developed a health memorandum to draw attention to local health concerns, and submitted it to the leaders of political parties here and in Kathmandu. Several political parties have now included provisions to address our problems in their manifestos. We have improved a lot of bad practices in our community through this programme – for example, health officials at the local clinic were often absent, but now they always show up for work. We have gained the trust of the community.”


Fanta, aged 28, MRMV youth group memberFanta, MRMV youth group member in Niger. Credit: Soumana Hamadou /Oxfam

Education and healthcare are two of our biggest challenges in Niger. MRMV has given youth a huge voice so that they can lobby authorities and run awareness campaigns in their communities.”

“It has helped a lot of people to know about their SRH and education rights, especially young women. Now, girls are coming back to study after having left school at a young age. More and more people know about the dangers of child marriage. Parents are also becoming interested in our campaigning.”


Amar*, aged 27, MRMV Vice President of the Youth Advisory Board

The MRMV Youth Advisory Board has been a strong vehicle for us – the youth – to voice our opinions, connect with policy-makers, and address the attitudes of parents, teachers and duty-bearers.”

“MRMV has given so many people like me a very strong and reliable platform to learn and explore on youth issues such as sexual and reproductive health. Change will come, slow and steady, and the impact MRMV has had in breaking the silence around SRH is wonderful. We need a safe, healthy and aware future for the young generation in Pakistan.”


Elizabeth, aged 18, MRMV student baraza leader

Elizabeth, MRMV student baraza leader in Tanzania. Credit: Aarati Sharma/OxfamThis programme has taught students to understand the appropriate way to demand their rights without the use of conflict. There have been so many changes as a result. For example, teachers used to hit girls on their feet as a punishment, but through suggestion boxes we presented the problem to the head teacher and urged him to stop the practice.”

“MRMV has helped me to gain confidence and raise my voice to fight for youth rights, and to be a good leader among the students at my school. I have undergone a complete change.”



Thuong, aged 15, involved in MRMV project activitiesThuong, participant in MRMV project activities in Vietnam. Credit: Hoang Ngoc Danh/Oxfam

“I used to rarely take part in class activities, but since being a part of MRMV I’ve learned about my rights, including my right to participate. Now, I share my knowledge about child rights with others in my community, and talk about my wishes and expectations with my parents, teachers and authorities. My parents respect and are proud of me, and I have a better relationship with my teachers.”

“The project has also drawn attention to the needs of ethnic minority students. We have led and taken part in activities, and expressed our opinions to the whole school. In the future, I want to devote myself to my community. I want to be a leader of the next generation.”


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*Names have been changed

Photo: Youth participants take part in participatory video training at the MRMV 2014 Annual Learning Event in The Hague. (Credit: Aarati Sharma/Oxfam)

Author: Imogen Davies
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.