Home to one of the largest youth populations in Africa, Ethiopia marked International Youth Day (IYD) on August 12, 2021 for the eighteenth consecutive year. Twelve days later, DSW Ethiopia hosted a half-day panel discussion in commemoration of the day. Forty-five participants, the majority of whom were youth representing clubs, associations and youth-focused organisations as well as other government stakeholders, came together at the Top Ten Hotel in Addis Ababa honoring this year’s IYD theme; “Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health.”
This eventful IYD’s commemoration hosted by DSW covered some key activities, including the presentation of recent studies, followed by a panel discussion. During the first session, a study exploring adolescent nutrition practices and sexual and reproductive health intervention, which DSW technically supported across 100 schools and among other out-of-school youth in the Amhara region, was discussed.
“Given the growing population of youth in Ethiopia, the demographic dividend will likely hinge upon our ability and resolve in realising the transformation of a food system within the context of fostering youth innovation that impacts planetary health. Thus, the presentation of the study related to adolescent nutrition practices and SRH issues was particularly relevant this IYD day,” enthuses Segni Tefera, Project Officer with DSW Ethiopia.
Although the study presented by DSW at the IYD’s panel discussion by and large, exhibited direct relevance to the event’s special messages, the issues of rights and empowerment by and for youth were some of the most sought-after topics drawing the attention of the youth participants. “How do we young people use and ensure our voices get heard and respected at all times rather than discoursing about them at an event like the IYD?” This was one of the most common challenging concerns raised by a number of the youth participants who engaged in the panel discussion.
“If we refer to the recent data from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA, 2019), we find that the proportion of young people in Ethiopia whose ages stretch from 10 – 24 compared to the total population, comprise 34 percent. This is projected to grow to over one half of the entire population. Numbers speak volume, loud and clear that time is of the essence to get the voices of youth heard at all levels and their rights to empowerment consistently respected,” underscored Abebe Demisu, Programme & Project Department Manager at DSW Ethiopia.
“The commemoration of International Youth Day doesn’t go unnoticed without impacting on the decision makers, including myself who works at the Federal Ministry of Women, Children & Youth Affairs (FMoWCYA). There hasn’t been a recorded history in which any given nation thrived and prospered without an empowered youth taking on the lion’s share of roles in development. This is because the productivity of youth is unrivaled with any other demographic groups in any society. Indeed, their productivities would, to begin with, be actualised if and when only their voices get heard and so are their rights respected,” says Endale Tilahun, Director of Youth Mainstreaming & Job Creation Directorate at the FMoWCYA.
As the half-day panel discussion approached its final session, Feyera Assefa, Country Director of DSW Ethiopia reminded the participants about DSW’s long 30-year journey since its founding in Hannover, Germany. “In fact,” Feyera noted, “this year we commenced commemorating our own 30th anniversary and we would like you to rest assured that we will keep all of you with stakes onboard”.
In the course of the panel discussion, the question emerged on how practically DSW has been able to introduce the youth empowerment effort through tailoring the youth-to-youth initiative. Feyera further explained how “the initiative that has empowered tens of thousands of youth was considered as a gift by DSW to the Ethiopian youth.” Feyera emphasizes “the replication of such practical initiative to date that continued among many other partner organisations and government stakeholders is a testimony of DSW’s legacy that already set the path for enabling a youth-friendly environment in Ethiopia”.
In his closing remarks, Feyera said “We are a youth-focused organisation and talk, work and proactively act on behalf of young people. Moreover, ‘Empowered Youth for a Better Future’ is the guide torch that we bear as an organisation to foster, advance, empower and enhance the needs of young people in Ethiopia. Let’s celebrate together this year’s international youth day bearing in mind to commit to the key messages accompanying this special day,” he urged.