In the first quarter of 2016, I spent three months doing my professional practicum at ONE Campaign’s Africa office. I always thought of myself as a rights advocate, a motivator, and someone who imparts knowledge to young people. From my university days I enjoyed assisting to raise awareness. I love the youth’s hunger for knowledge and information.
I had a desire to learn how to engage young people in decision-making, the processes that are taken, and how easy it is to get them involved. Yes, easy! My experience at ONE changed my perception of the famous saying, “Government has failed us’’. Now I know that we as the citizens can also failed the Government.
Our inability to take part in the decision-making process, our lack of influence when national budgets are being made, our silence in the debate of these budgets, all this has led to decisions being made in our absence. We have failed the Government!
The tragedy of this realisation however is that we also failed the young people because most of them do not know they are supposed to have a say.
Before my engagement with ONE, I worked at Stepping Stones International in Botswana for over three years. During this time, I had the pleasure of interacting with youth from the ages of 15-26 on a daily basis. They were unemployed and out of school, youth that the society constantly turns it’s back on and doesn’t listen to. I would engage them in discussions to find out their views on life. What they shared made me realise that we have been doing things wrong all along. Through these engagements I learnt that they had never read the National Youth Policy or even looked for it (Botswana Youth Policy highlights opportunities and programs available to young people). Their reason was simple but heart-breaking, “Ausi D, how can we look for something that we did not know existed?” I became curious on how many of them had registered to vote. From a group of 80 youth, less than 5% who were eligible to vote had actually registered!
The voices that matter the most are the very voices that are silent. They are silent because they lack information and have been made to believe that their voices hold no value, no worth and do not matter at all.
There are numerous ways to change this situation:
- The education system needs to have a component that teaches students on policies that are relevant to them and the decision making processes in the country at all levels. The youth need to know these policies and how they can be involved in decision-making processes.
- National budget needs to be reflective of the situation on the ground, and mirror the needs of the average citizen. How does that happen? We get them involved. Without their voices, we shall keep making plans for them that are not relevant to their circumstances.
How to get our voices heard
It doesn’t matter which country you come from, there are so many ways you can go about making a difference! Here are a few suggestions I learnt work from my time with ONE:
- Have the will power! This is the core ingredient because without it you would have the steam to keep pushing!
- Write to your policy maker. Imagine how a flood of letters by 200 youth asking for consideration to be made to the budget allocation for the Ministry of Health or Education can put policymakers under pressure.
- Use the tools you have! A flood of twitter videos by 500 youth to our policy makers, who are all on twitter and facebook (our domain as youth), telling them our thoughts on the budget or on the decisions made will put pressure on their future decisions
- How about requesting a meeting with your representative to tell him why a certain issue is important to you and your community?
- Join a march, volunteer at an advocacy organisation and support their efforts to mobilize more young people to support decision-making processes and hold governments accountable.
We owe it to our countries and our continent to get involved. Our voices are all it takes. Join thousands of other young people adding their voices to ensure they don’t fail their governments. Join ONE