Y2Y in 2015: Kennedy ChandeEast Africa’s population is young. 64 per cent of the population – an estimated 251 million people are below age 25. Life is not always easy for them. We asked Kennedy Mambo Chande, Y2Y (Youth to Youth) Coordinator at DSW, to tell us about the challenges and opportunities of the East African youth generation.

Kennedy, what do you consider the main challenges of East African youth?

There are a number of challenges that concern East African youth right now. Number one is access to quality education. The majority of youth are living in poverty and the few that have access to education realise it is not of good quality. Especially girls are facing a lot of interference. Young girls who are enrolled in school do not always attend classes as they have to take care of their siblings at home, fetch fire wood or take care of their families. Those that come from poor backgrounds are forced to engage in economic activities such as child labour to enable them to get food on a day to day basis. So education becomes a secondary priority.

Those that have access to formal education realise that the East African governments do not have the institutions to absorb the youth in basic education. Some of them are left out. They do not have any structures or initiatives to engage them meaningfully so they end up in crime, sexual assault or are forced to early sex to make an income.

Another major challenge for youth is employment. Employers want somebody who is experienced and who has some basic education. So if you do not have education no one will hire you. Employment opportunities are not available for young people, so they are forced to work in the informal sector. They will try to come up with a small business, but often with no information on how to run it – how to control their daily expenditure and daily income.

DSC_0723Also young people have not been targeted well in their needs of reproductive health. The information that is available in school is very limited – and those who do not go to school miss out on this issue completely. In that situation young people become vulnerable. They lack information on contraceptives and do not know what to do to avoid pregnancies. Some youth may be forced to marry somebody else due to their poor economic background, just because that other person has the resources. As often the men are in charge of the resources, they are more likely to make decisions for the women – often they are not to their best.

What needs to be done to improve the situation of East African youth?

First of all the political will to address the issues that youth face has to be there. We need to come up with legislation and policies that are in the interests of youth. How these policies are developed also matters – the youth have to be involved in this process. These policies should be around economic empowerment, around health, and around education.

Most young men struggle with income. Some of them have very bright ideas but limited resources to fund or market them. Policies should create that space.

The projects we implement at DSW contribute a lot to the quality of life in terms of health. The more family members you have, the more bread they will take. The more income a household has, the more services it can enjoy. If you have just one euro, you do not think twice if you spend it on food, a condom or medical services. The health sector has to make sure that health services, and especially SRHR health services are affordable or even free. That would mean that women were free to decide if they want to become pregnant or not.Ken Y2Y 2 2014

We also need to educate young people, especially in SRHR related issues. If you do not plan your family very well, you come from poverty and you go back to poverty.

Also health centres are often set up in a way that discourages youth from accessing them. Most health centres do not have privacy and health staff might convey the impression that they disapprove of sexual activities of youth in general. So they do not get the advice they need and are left alone.

Moreover, there are cultural practices that counter our reproductive health efforts. Communities need to change. We have so many cases of girls who miss exams in school just because they do not have sanitary pads. Many girls just do not do well because that kind of social stigma that they suffer.

Gate way High School Y2Y clubIn how far does Youth to Youth (Y2Y) contribute to improvements and what is special about the initiative?

We see that the youths themselves have a solution. They play a critical role in solving some of the problems that I have described before. If you are my age mate I can chat with you, I feel free. We are providing information, knowledge and building the life skills of youth and we expect them to share it to their fellow youth. They learn about SRHR, HIV and Aids, life skills and entrepreneurship. Our case studies show that it works very well. We have East African youth who live with HIV and Aids. They have opened up because of the trainings and encouraged many others to develop perspectives. We also use youth as a channel to reach out to communities offering SRHR information, HIV testing and family planning services.

What were memorable encounters with youth club beneficiaries you experienced?

I visited one of our youth centres in Uganda in June. It was full of youth sitting there, lined up waiting to receive services. I asked one of them: Why do you come here? He said: “This centre addresses my needs”. He said he had come from far away to get to this particular centre and said that his issues were very well understood and handled by the staff. I hear that quite a lot and it is always very encouraging.

Kennedy Mambo Chande joined DSW in 2013. He is coordinating DSW’s Y2Y activities in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda since October 2014.

Y2Y has been accompanying thousands of youth while they developed new perspectives, grew responsibility and improved their livelihoods.