Some weeks ago I had the chance to meet a motivated team of DSW partners and colleagues from West Africa, Rwanda, India, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda for an intensive week of discussions in Mombasa. Together, we reviewed progress and exchanged experiences from year one of DSW’s Euroleverage project. Having the chance to sit down together rather than staying in touch through emails, Skype or phone, we planned for how to achieve the project’s targets of increasing available funding for family planning while at the same time building the skills of civil society organizations to access these funds. Between training organizations in resource mobilization and informing MPs and decision-makers at different levels about the impact of family planning, important steps have already been taken towards achieving the project targets. Leaving the meeting, I had the feeling that this engaged team is working not only to achieve project targets but also to serve a broader belief that our efforts improve peoples’ lives.

While in Mombasa, I took the chance of visiting one of DSW’s dynamic youth clubs. Hands of Mercy, a club established by Mercy Maghanga six years ago, is now supporting several smaller clubs in the Mombasa region. Welcoming me and my colleagues in their brand new office on Saturday morning, Mercy and her peers explained how the club has given them skills to not only improve their sexual and reproductive health, but also their livelihoods and ability to stay out of drug abuse and criminality which is rampant in the area. Alfani Mwanyika, one of the members, told me how he organizes swimming courses for youth from the slums of Mombasa, rendering them not only life-saving skills, but also employment opportunities as life guards in the many resorts and private swimming pools in the coastal area.

Understanding that issues like safe sex and reproductive health cannot be addressed separately but are closely linked with giving youth the skills and tools to provide for themselves lies at the heart of DSW’s Youth-to-Youth initiative. In the case of Hands of Mercy, DSW has empowered members through financial and organizational trainings that allow the club to become self-sustaining. To this purpose, it is now planning to open a small shop and generate incomes from gardening and chicken breeding at the new office compound.  Challenges remain, however. Accessing even the small funds needed for starting these activities requires substantial work – work that is put in on a voluntary basis by the club members.

I was truly impressed and inspired by how they have been able to turn the initial resistance from community members against talking openly about sexual and reproductive health and rights, family planning and women and girls’ empowerment into an overwhelming demand for their support, advice and peer education activities.

Back in Brussels, I look back at a week that not only built closer links with colleagues and partners, enabling us to meet the ambitious Euroleverage targets, but also inspired me by seeing what the funds raised from this work contribute to – young people empowered to be in charge of their own lives.

Euroleverage is an advocacy and capacity development project implemented in ten countries in Europe, Africa and South Asia. To find out more about how aims to increase available funding for family planning and enable civil society organizations to access those funds, please visit: http://www.dsw.org/projects/euroleverage.html. To find out more about DSW’s youth work and the Youth-to-Youth initiative, please visit: http://www.dsw.org/our-focus/empowering-youth.html