Keeping the Flame Alight: Ending the Project, Continuing the Work

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Keeping the Flame Alight: Ending the Project, Continuing the Work

“Thank you for this opportunity you gave me to learn about contraception…”
- Valerie, participant of the workshop on young people’s access to contraception.  

This workshop was the last activity of my project, which aims to promote the discussion about contraception among young people in Côte d’Ivoire.

Overall, I am pleased to note that all activities I planned have been implemented during the project period. Over the course of three months, I had the opportunity to discuss sexual and reproductive health issues, particularly contraception, with young people in Côte d’Ivoire and collect their stories through photos and videos. The survey I developed has provided insight into some questions, like why do they use contraception and how well acquainted are you with contraception methods. Others activities have consisted of advocating using online media to alert stakeholders about contraception.

The Ivorian Youth Voices on Contraception project has been implemented successfully, and I am proud of that. But these successes have not come without challenges, like the political context in Côte d’Ivoire, which makes it difficult to take photos and shoot video. As this project comes to a close, the most important thing that must be done is the dissemination of the stories collected. Although I have been allowed to share photos and videos with stakeholders yet, I am committed to continue.

However, I’ve learned a lot from the implementation of this project and also from Women Deliver’s Young Leaders Program, which I joined in 2013. First of all, having skilled young people who are committed to the project is crucial. To achieve this, I asked some youth advocates to suggest young people who meet the criteria, which provided me with a short list for the selection.

I oversaw the project implementation in the role of manager. The Ivorian Youth Voices on Contraception project helped me to develop management skills such as planning, implementing, and decision-making. Most of the time, I found it easier to plan than to decide. I was also sure to have perfect control of my financial resources.

I am grateful to Women Deliver and Bayer HealthCare for the opportunity to participate in this global campaign as an Ambassador and to promote access to contraception for adolescents and young people. We are at the end of the project, but the work will continue to keep the flame alight.

About World Contraception Day:

In support of World Contraception Day and Women Deliver’s Young Leaders Program, Women Deliver and Bayer will work in partnership on a three-year World Contraception Day (WCD) Ambassadors Project. The project equips young people with the skills they need to collect and share digital stories about young people’s SRHR and access to contraception in their home countries. The project includes a storytelling and digital media training, a seed grant, and advocacy opportunities for the Ambassadors to showcase their work at the international level. 

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Not Rights Just on Paper, But Rights in Action

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Not Rights Just on Paper, But Rights in Action

[After watching] I have been thinking about the video for two days. The concept played in my mind over and over again… it challenged traditional beliefs of our societies and perceptions of contemporary media on sexuality of disabled young people. Thushi's ‘It’s not a different sex’ is very powerful.”
- Sachintha Gunaratne, Social Work Undergraduate, Trainer Sexual & Reproductive Health Rights

After nearly six months of intense work, I was amazed to see the number of positive reviews and responses to my video advocacy short film, “It’s Not a Different Sex: Stories of Young People with Disabilities.” The film was directed by a prominent film director who said this film is a hybrid version between a public service message and a short film and since its launch on 12 November 2015, it has been viewed nearly 12,000 times on YouTube.

It has also been shared on a number of online platforms, including NGOs, INGOs, CSOs, and community organizations that focus on the sexual rights, reproductive rights, and disability rights of young people. Not only that, but many individuals, activists, and local celebrities shared the video as well.  Many of them mentioned that the video challenged their perceptions on disability, and they especially appreciated the concept of ‘not sympathy but dignity’ for people with disabilities.

We made this film in consultation with young people with disabilities, young human rights activists, and artists. While making the film, as well as after finishing it, I made a number of good friends from the disabled community in Sri Lanka and international networks. I formed a strong partnership with the International Alliance for Peace (IYAP)’s Ability Forum, which focuses on rights for all, regardless of disability. The objective of this forum is to convene high-level government officials, nonprofit and civil society organizations, and young disability rights activists to promote policy change and effective implementation of programs to improve the lives of people with disabilities. I will be working closely with the Ability Forum to ensure that the sexual and reproductive health and rights of people with disabilities are discussed and secured.

This short film was screened in partnership with IYAP, followed by a panel discussion featuring prominent disability rights activists in Sri Lanka. We have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from a number of participants, including United Nations staff, CSOs, National Youth Services Council, disabled individuals from across the country, and youth activists. We also were invited by University of Sri Jayawardanapura to screen the film, where 300 students and professors joined us to watch and discuss the film.

Due to the seriousness of this campaign, at the outset, I wasn’t fully prepared for the amount of time necessary for this project when I began. A video advocacy campaign does not end by simply uploading the video to YouTube; that is where the campaign really just begins. It’s critical to monitor what is happening online and what conversations are happening around the production. However, I found this difficult to manage, as there is so much content being produced online. I also received a few negative comments from few people who viewed the video in conventional perspectives, regardless of the content of the film or the intended message. I ultimately realized that some of them were commenting without even watching the video.

I believe that this video shouldn’t be limited to Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms. Other platforms need to be utilized to bring the message to everyone, especially to those who have limited access to technology. We have plans to talk to local cinema theater owners and video shop owners to promote the film in their venues. We are also hoping to produce this film in local languages and in braille or audio for people with visual impairment.

Though we may not be able to reach everyone, we are committed to reaching as many people as possible. We strongly believe doing so will shift viewers’ thought processes, and ultimately, their attitudes towards the sexual and reproductive rights of the disabled young people.

About World Contraception Day:

In support of World Contraception Day and Women Deliver’s Young Leaders Program, Women Deliver and Bayer will work in partnership on a three-year World Contraception Day (WCD) Ambassadors Project. The project equips young people with the skills they need to collect and share digital stories about young people’s SRHR and access to contraception in their home countries. The project includes a storytelling and digital media training, a seed grant, and advocacy opportunities for the Ambassadors to showcase their work at the international level. 

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As Long as There Are Young People, There Will Be Youth Advocacy

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As Long as There Are Young People, There Will Be Youth Advocacy

I am coming to the end of my World Contraception Day Ambassadors project and I must say, I have developed a newfound respect for everyone involved in the film industry. In the last stages of this project, I have been spending countless hours editing with a friend of mine. It has been a humbling experience.

In the course of my WCD Project, I have learned some lessons:

1.     Youth advocacy needs time and commitment. Youth advocacy might as well be a full-time job. I am sure my fellow WCD ambassadors would agree when I say that it has not been easy, but the past couple of months have been some of the most exhilarating months of my life. I have been challenged to do and engage more so that I can become a better youth advocate for critical matters, like sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

2.     Youth advocacy on SRHR has no end as long as young people exist, and young people must be involved. There is no finish line to youth advocacy.

3.     Young people are fighting many of the same injustices when it comes to SRHR, just on different levels and in different locations. I have been keenly following up on my fellow Ambassadors’ projects and we are all tackling similar cases of seclusion, marginalization, lack of information, and access to SRHR services, among others.

Initially, I had planned to create a video addressing the myths and misconceptions surrounding contraception among young people in Kenya and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). I am still working on this video but I discovered that, in the course of my project, some young people’s stories are so powerful that they have to be told in their entirety to convey the full message - I came across young women with powerful stories and I knew I had to cover them appropriately. For instance, I just published on my blog, Lavender’s story of growing up in an area plagued with many challenges and how it affected her SRHR. I plan to share more stories on this blog.

4.     Finally, I have developed a keen interest in sharing the stories of disabled youth in my own country. I was inspired by Thushi, a WCD Ambassador, who worked on a powerful video that sheds a light on the SRHR of disabled Sri Lankan young people, who are all too often left out of the conversation.

It has been a challenging but fulfilling journey. The only thing I would do differently is to outsource professional help with the camera. Not everyone is meant to be good behind a camera.

Thank you to Women Deliver and Bayer for giving us a chance to learn and share.

About World Contraception Day:

In support of World Contraception Day and Women Deliver’s Young Leaders Program, Women Deliver and Bayer will work in partnership on a three-year World Contraception Day (WCD) Ambassadors Project. The project equips young people with the skills they need to collect and share digital stories about young people’s SRHR and access to contraception in their home countries. The project includes a storytelling and digital media training, a seed grant, and advocacy opportunities for the Ambassadors to showcase their work at the international level. 

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Wrapping It Up: Reflections on the WCD Ambassadors Project

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Wrapping It Up: Reflections on the WCD Ambassadors Project

After three and a half months of pace, preparation, conversation, and growth in six different regions of the world, the World Contraception Day (WCD) Ambassadors Project has come to a close! Looking back, exhilarating is an understatement - as this project brought with it a wealth of diverse experiences. 

The planning and development phase went smoothly, with the Women Deliver team providing us with a comprehensive grounding in digital media and storytelling. Then came the tough stuff. Armed with an iPad in hand, each Ambassador set back to their respective regions and got into the complicated work of documenting young people’s stories about their sexual and reproductive health, specifically about contraceptives. My region, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), is a vast and diverse region, featuring a multiplicity of ethnicities, language, cultures, races, and class backgrounds. As such, conceptualizing this project itself was a challenge as I aimed to capture a spectrum of voices while focusing specifically on underrepresented youth voices from rural communities and the LGBTQI community. In an attempt to capture at least a glimpse of the region’s diversity, I intended to speak with young people in three different territories – Belize, St. Lucia, and my home country of Trinidad and Tobago. However, as the project developed, the scope was adjusted to communities in my home country as well as in Belize.

There were more than a few highlights of the project and definitely more than I can put in this single blog post. Suffice it to say, this project gave me an unprecedented opportunity to communicate with young people about their personal stories on their own terms and in situations where they were open, honest, and personal. From chatting with Kevin, a young LGBTQI youth advocate from Belize about his early experiences with contraceptives, to listening to Kate and Brendon from Trinidad and Tobago speak candidly about their first-hand encounters when accessing health services, this project was an meaningful exercise in open, honest communication with young people  about subjects that are often regarded as taboo. Being afforded the privilege to listen and document the stories of these brave, inspiring, and articulate young people has been my most significant personal highlight thus far.  
 
To have completed these three months with a canon of more than 15 vivid and insightful youth stories is, to me, the biggest success story of the project. Although we hail from six different regions, one common denominator of many of the Ambassadors’ projects was the difficulty of finding young people who were willing and comfortable to discuss their personal sex lives, and even fewer who were willing to speak on camera. These problems were compounded given that my project’s main demographic was young people from rural communities and the LGBTQI community. Harassment due to strong homophobic sentiments in their communities and fear of discrimination were among the key reasons many young people declined to participate. In light of this, I was incredibly impressed with the young people who, in the face of these challenges, still shared their stories. In doing so, they allowed me to present at least a small glimpse of the diverse experiences of young people in the LAC region.

Overall, I have learned countless lessons from my participation in the WCD Ambassadors project. From capacity building and project management skills to improved advocacy and communication skills, I have ended the project on surer footing. I have learned how to adjust to different circumstances in order to best create an inviting and comfortable environment, but more importantly, I have learned how critical it is to listen carefully. I have emerged from this project not only with a wealth of knowledge about the experiences of young people in LAC, but with a reinvigorated respect for young people's agency. I move excitedly into new advocacy initiatives with a strong sense of kinship and understanding. I look forward to the projects of my fellow Ambassadors and I encourage everyone to stay posted for the big reveal of my own. I promise, it will be worth the wait!

About World Contraception Day:

In support of World Contraception Day and Women Deliver’s Young Leaders Program, Women Deliver and Bayer will work in partnership on a three-year World Contraception Day (WCD) Ambassadors Project. The project equips young people with the skills they need to collect and share digital stories about young people’s SRHR and access to contraception in their home countries. The project includes a storytelling and digital media training, a seed grant, and advocacy opportunities for the Ambassadors to showcase their work at the international level. 

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A Storied Journey of Empowerment

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A Storied Journey of Empowerment

The World Contraception Day Ambassadors project was an empowering and enriching experience for me. I have grown professionally and personally through sharing stories, uncovering truths, and listening to the realities that young people face in their communities when trying to access their sexual and reproductive health and rights, particularly contraceptive information and services. 

The WCD Ambassadors project enhanced my knowledge of and skills in using technology to advocate for public health and human rights issues. The proposal writing process and project implementation phase helped me to develop effective advocacy and communication strategies. 

During the implementation process of this project, I met with more than 100 young people from all over Georgia. During these discussions, it was made clear how important it is to create a safe and reliable environment for young people to talk about contraception. I also discovered that there is trepidation attached to openly talking about issues concerning sexual wellbeing and contraception. This fear is because of the perceived stigma attached to sexual health discussions and topics that are still taboo in our society. I learned that most of the young people think that adults act as gatekeepers to sexual health information for adolescents; there is a gap between what adults believe that adolescents need and what adolescents themselves believe they really need. 

One of the biggest successes of this project was empowering young people to voice their needs and opinions about sexual health education and access to contraception. I am excited that the workshops encouraged participants to form A Youth Story and became advocates themselves, sharing new ideas about their rights to access contraception services with their peers.

The workshop equipped young people with the specific tools to creatively use digital communication platforms in order to raise awareness, encourage change, and have a greater impact. I learned that it is important to expand the knowledge and ability of young people to use technology and social media in SRHR advocacy and communication in Georgia. 

This project exceeded my expectations when I launched and promoted the project website, A Story Map of Youth Voices. It serves as an interactive tool for young people to communicate about issues related to reproductive health, family planning, and contraception, with policymakers and other partners.

This process taught me how to design and develop effective digital storytelling content that can increase awareness and engagement in the field of youth sexual and reproductive health and rights, and that digital storytelling is a very powerful tool for advocacy. 

Participating in the WCD Ambassadors Project also provided me with unique opportunities. I represented the WCD Ambassadors project at the international high-level conference “Achieving Gender Equality - Challenges and Opportunities in the European Neighborhood,” organized by the Government of Georgia in cooperation along with the EU and UN. I was also invited to speak on a panel regarding sexual wellbeing for people living with HIV/AIDS at the One Young World Summit in Bangkok. 

The WCD Ambassadors Project was an incredible empowering experience, one that provided me with the ability to develop and tell powerful stories. 

About World Contraception Day:

In support of World Contraception Day and Women Deliver’s Young Leaders Program, Women Deliver and Bayer will work in partnership on a three-year World Contraception Day (WCD) Ambassadors Project. The project equips young people with the skills they need to collect and share digital stories about young people’s SRHR and access to contraception in their home countries. The project includes a storytelling and digital media training, a seed grant, and advocacy opportunities for the Ambassadors to showcase their work at the international level. 

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The Light at the End of the Tunnel

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The Light at the End of the Tunnel

It has been a hectic fall season with so much going on but I am happy to say that the project has come to a close – a bittersweet ending to my year. As mentioned in my previous blog, I had encountered a few bumps along the way during my planning and implementation phase. However, with a little encouragement and persistence, I was able to secure my target university and execute my project. 

I connected with two of my old undergraduate professors from the Public Health Department at William Paterson University (WPU), both of whom were extremely supportive and excited about my project. WPU is a diverse campus located in Wayne, New Jersey, almost 45 minutes away from New York City. I was thrilled to receive their approval and we proceeded with the next steps in order to implement my project on the WPU campus. 

After submitting and receiving approval from the WPU Institutional Review Board (IRB), the Public Health Department provided me the entire Public Health Club on campus to assist me with my project.  They helped ensure that I was able to collect all of the data needed to complete the project successfully. 

I set up a booth in the Student Center of WPU, which ran from 10AM-5PM, There, I provided informational materials on contraceptive methods and insurance coverage from the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) , a red carpet backdrop for photo and video opportunity for students who supported the mission and vision of World Contraception Day, and baked goods to attract students to my booth. The volunteers and I engaged the students, discussing their options when it comes to contraceptive methods and informing them about the affordability and accessibility of the more highly effective methods.

One of the project highlights was the effectiveness with which Public Health students further promoted WCD to other millennials in the United States. The volunteers helped at the booth and they also participated in the photo-story video component of my project. Being millennials themselves, they understand the importance of their sexual and reproductive and health rights (SRHR). This knowledge was evident in the vibrant ways they participated and promoted WCD that day, and it attracted even more students to the booth than I could have ever done on my own. I learned that peer-to-peer engagement is a more effective way to relay information about contraception than an intergenerational conversation Students were able to ask us difficult and personal questions, and some even shared personal stories to further show their support. 

The major lesson that I learned from this project was the importance of time management. Balancing the demands of a full-time job and the new-found freedom of just graduating was definitely challenging. This project required me to reach out to external partners and universities during business hours, but it was tough as I was also working at that time. Once I was able to connect with the right people, I was able to move forward with and successfully implement my project I now know, that next time, I need to be better at time management to ensure that any future projects will be executed in a timely and substantive manner.

I commend the efforts of my fellow ambassadors and I am proud to be a part of this project. I wish the best to Women Deliver and Bayer as we all work towards the day when “all pregnancies are wanted.

About World Contraception Day:

In support of World Contraception Day and Women Deliver’s Young Leaders Program, Women Deliver and Bayer will work in partnership on a three-year World Contraception Day (WCD) Ambassadors Project. The project equips young people with the skills they need to collect and share digital stories about young people’s SRHR and access to contraception in their home countries. The project includes a storytelling and digital media training, a seed grant, and advocacy opportunities for the Ambassadors to showcase their work at the international level. 

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Clicktivism to Activism

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Clicktivism to Activism

“Do you think just this one video clip will make the change in disabled young people’s sexual health?” a disability rights activists asked me, doubtfully, when I was collecting her story for my advocacy video. Her doubt was justifiable in a way. One video may not have the power to completely change the world and how people think. However, we believe this video will make people think. This is the first step towards destroying the stereotypes and stigma surrounding the sexuality of young people with disabilities. They are normal, just like the rest of us, and have the same needs. However, there are certain barriers that prevent them from living a normal life. These issues need to be addressed.

A lot of people say that online campaigns are not effective. The reason for this may be because most people are merely “online warriors” who do not do much in non-virtual world to support their on-line activism. The idea of this project is to turn online warriors into offline activists. We need a multi-sectoral approach to make a change in people’s heart and create pressure at the policy level. Through this project, we are trying to initiate social dialogues.

I don’t want to do a one off, ad hoc project. I want to make sure that this project is sustainable and has a lasting impact. I wanted the video we create to be the start, not the end of the project. While exploring the opportunities to partner with another organization, I came across the International Youth Alliance for Peace (IYAP). IYAP is a community-based organization founded to support youth-led projects that promote sustainable peace and development using sports, tourism, and cultural exchange among other community activities. IYAP aims to create a community of youth leaders worldwide who work together towards building a peaceful world which is united against bias.

Currently, the IYAP is working on an exciting project called the “Ability Forum” which focuses on rights for all, regardless of disability. The initial media launch for this initiative will be November 7th. The objective of this forum is to convene high-level government officials, nonprofit and civil society organizations, and young disability rights activists to promote policy-level change and effective implementation of programs to improve the lives of people with disabilities. Health, specifically sexual health and rights of people with disabilities, will be a central focus of the forum. The Ability Forum will be the ideal opportunity to launch my WCD project.

Even though I have worked as an SRH youth advocate internationally for many years, one thing I have realized is how much I don’t know about the SRH of young people with disabilities in Sri Lanka. What are their challenges? What are their real needs? What are their thoughts on the subject? These are largely unanswered questions that many people don’t feel comfortable asking. One of the eye-openers I have had while working on this project was when one disability rights activist told me that he had learned about sexual health from his mother. He was fortunate enough to have such an understanding parent. But unfortunately, most young people regardless of ability do not learn about SRH from their parents, because talking about such subjects is considered taboo in our society.

The greatest thing this project has taught me is patience. Producing a digital story about the sexual and reproductive health of young people with disabilities is not an easy task. Moreover, coordinating this project while being employed with a full-time job is challenging, but the encouragement I have received from the IYAP and young people with disabilities has been amazing. The Ability Forum will be a landmark event for young people’s disability rights activism. We are confident that it will help bring about a change, the impact of which will be amplified by the collaboration between IYAP and my WCD project. Furthermore, we are certain that this alliance will attract an international audience and generate support across the world, helping us provide a global voice to those who battle in silence.  

About World Contraception Day:

In support of World Contraception Day and Women Deliver’s Young Leaders Program, Women Deliver and Bayer will work in partnership on a three-year World Contraception Day (WCD) Ambassadors Project. The project equips young people with the skills they need to collect and share digital stories about young people’s SRHR and access to contraception in their home countries. The project includes a storytelling and digital media training, a seed grant, and advocacy opportunities for the Ambassadors to showcase their work at the international level. 

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Two Countries In, One Month to Go!

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Two Countries In, One Month to Go!

There is one month of the project left and I have to say that these past two months have been some of the most demanding and exhilarating months of my life. The project is coming along well and I am now moving from the story collection phase into the editing phase. 

So far, I have collected several stories in my home country of Trinidad and Tobago and had a very productive visit to Belize. With the support of my Belizean allies there, Attorney-at-Law Darynka Mendez and Women Deliver Young Leader Elmer Cornejo, I was able to speak to young people from different parts of the country. While it was hot and hectic, it was an unprecedented opportunity to broaden my project and include stories of young people from this Central American country as well as the Caribbean.

I spoke with young people and connected with the Belize Family Life Association (BFLA) to learn about some of the great work they do. A couple of my interviews were with young people who work with the BFLA’s Youth Advocacy Movement and I was impressed by the investment that has been made in developing their youth-focused activities. The Youth Zone at BFLA is bright, colorful, and comfortable and young people can come in and access contraceptives freely. 

Unfortunately, as is the case in my home country of Trinidad and Tobago with our Family Planning Association, not enough young people - especially in rural areas and underserved communities - are aware of the services offered by these clinics and some do not even know that these spaces exist. Reaching out to these young people, as well as young people from the LGBTQI community, has been a big focus of my project since these voices and communities are not often represented in many SRHR projects. Focusing on these communities has not been without its challenges, especially given that my project involves filmed interviews. 

Due to prevalent homophobic attitudes and fear of victimization, many LGBTQI young people are unwilling to share their perspectives on camera or talk at all about their experiences. Similarly, many young people - especially young women from rural communities and small villages - were unwilling to share their experiences without fear of being identified. This challenge highlighted a critical lesson of this work. Despite our best efforts to inform young people and offer them options, if we do not fundamentally combat inequality in its most discriminating forms - race, gender, sexuality, class, and more - we will not achieve our goals in the communities that often require services the most. 

Overall, I think I share the sentiments of my fellow Ambassadors in saying that collecting and documenting several youth stories in three short months is no easy feat. Despite all the challenges, the process has really given me the unprecedented opportunity to sit with young men and women from my region and talk with them one-on-one in a safe and comfortable space about sex and contraceptives. 

The unfolding of these conversations has really highlighted what is, for me, the most unique part of this project – its youth-led and youth-focused nature. The way young people relate to each other and feel comfortable in each other's presence has played a huge role in allowing me to access and document some very personal youth perspectives on sex and contraceptives - topics that most people don't feel comfortable talking to strangers about, far less from talking to them on camera. 

The project has personally forced me out of my own comfort zone in many ways and allowed me to grow into a better youth advocate as a result of my interaction with young people from many different backgrounds and with very different experiences. Now that the final phase of the project is upon us, I know it will be a very busy time as I collect and wrap all the stories into one seamless picture. I wish my fellow Ambassadors the best of luck as we all move into this last stage together and I am incredibly excited to see their work! 

About World Contraception Day:

In support of World Contraception Day and Women Deliver’s Young Leaders Program, Women Deliver and Bayer will work in partnership on a three-year World Contraception Day (WCD) Ambassadors Project. The project equips young people with the skills they need to collect and share digital stories about young people’s SRHR and access to contraception in their home countries. The project includes a storytelling and digital media training, a seed grant, and advocacy opportunities for the Ambassadors to showcase their work at the international level. 


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The Freedom to Choose the Best Contraception for Oneself is a Right

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The Freedom to Choose the Best Contraception for Oneself is a Right

The moment I got involved with Women Deliver Young Leaders Program in 2013 I decided that I would never let a chance to share new knowledge with my peers pass me. I consciously decided to share new knowledge with my friends and any young people that I came by. I made this decision because of what I had learnt at Women Deliver Conference in 2013. I was introduced to stories from different young people representing different parts of the globe and all of their stories were worth sharing and needed to be heard. This was one of the major reasons I am a World Contraception Day Ambassador. 

September 26th was very important to me given that I am representing Kenya and the Middle East. Kenya had celebrations for this day and I chose to spend my time there to interact, share, and spread awareness with young people about contraception. The mission of spreading awareness on contraception and young people’s SRHR is not as easy as a couple of tweets per day. It is more than tweets and more than social media. I have learnt that having a face-to-face conversation on this subject is as important as tweeting and posting about it on social media. I have learnt that conversations can take any turn. This is not a comfortable topic to just talk about with anyone and when one is approached to converse about it, many factors have to be considered such as the culture, the background, and the circumstances that the person is surrounded by. For instance, DSW Kenya in partnership with Bayer had a Young Adolescents Project event that I was lucky to take part in. This project did not only reach out to young adolescents, it reached out to young mothers, fathers, young people, and adolescents more broadly. It is easier to talk about a common cold your child has than it is to talk about whether you would like to have another child and how soon you would like that to happen. This is a private issue which is difficult for many to discuss openly. When it is a bunch of strangers approaching you to discuss it, it is even more uncomfortable. So, we talked about the common cold, tuberculosis, STD’s and HIV and contraception. I have learnt that being direct doesn’t work everywhere. I have learnt to be sensitive around the topic of contraception because this is a subject that has many twists to it and everyone is fighting their own battle with it.

The event was held in Mtomondoni, Kilifi, half an hour away from where I grew up. In my search to hear young people’s voices on their SRHR, I was busy engaging mates in different kinds of conversations. One thing was common in all of these conversation, the peace of mind that contraception comes with is underrated. It is important for young people to be exposed to information about ALL of their options for contraception. However, the most important thing is to make sure that young people are free to make their OWN informed choices and to be able to own these decisions. I learnt that young people want to know, want to have access to, and want to own the consequences that comes with the freedom to choose what they want. Adequate SRH is a right and so it is the right to choose what is good for oneself. Half of the world’s population – 3.5 billion people – is under the age of 30. This generation has the largest number of young people the world has ever seen. The least that governments, civil society, policymakers, and anyone trying to reach out to young people can do is respect their ideas and choices even if they do not align what you may want for them. Women Deliver always says that, “Young people need access to youth-friendly, affordable, and non-judgmental sexual and reproductive health information and services, including contraceptives,’’ which echoes exactly what I am trying to convey.

While undertaking this project, I have also learnt that communities embrace champions who share their experiences. Young people are more receptive to young champions from their own communities. It is difficult to connect if you from a different community and experienced a different set of circumstances. Young people should be front and center, sharing their SRHR stories. Young people should be enabled to empower themselves. It was easier for me to go back home, to where I grew up, and share why young people in my community need access to contraception and SRHR than it is for me to share this message elsewhere.

Thank you DSW and Bayer for such a great opportunity to be in the field with you.

About World Contraception Day:

In support of World Contraception Day and Women Deliver’s Young Leaders Program, Women Deliver and Bayer will work in partnership on a three-year World Contraception Day (WCD) Ambassadors Project. The project equips young people with the skills they need to collect and share digital stories about young people’s SRHR and access to contraception in their home countries. The project includes a storytelling and digital media training, a seed grant, and advocacy opportunities for the Ambassadors to showcase their work at the international level. 

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Your Life, Your Responsibility

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Your Life, Your Responsibility

We have slowly started the implementation of the project and now we are at the midway point! During this last month, we met young people in different places (community, youth organization office, university, etc) to give them the opportunity to have their say on the issue of sexual and reproductive health including contraception.

Young people had to agree allow us to use their photo and personal message without payment and they had to sign a form consenting to this which serves as ''contract'' for the project. Of course, all young people are unanimous on the fact that something must be done to improve contraceptive services for adolescents and young people but many wished to speak anonymously due to the presidential elections to be held on October 25th, 2015. Even with this concern, the idea of being heard at international level was sometime sufficient to motivate some passionate young people to share their photo and video. We have collected about 30 photos and 3 videos so far and we have developed the project website which was launched on Monday, October 12th, 2015. I am impressed by the commitment and bravery of our young people who have shared their photo and message with the project. Most of them asked for access to accurate information on sexual and reproduction health, specifically information about contraception and family planning. As these young girls from Yopougon, in the populous district of Abidjan, said: “We all have the right to information on contraception.”  Yes they need it! They do not ask for access to information only but also they ask for the right to access sexual and reproductive health including contraception commodities and services.

In addition to the photos, we have developed a survey to be filled online by young people about their thoughts of sexual and reproductive health. Due to difficulties in accessing the internet, we have printed the document and have asked young people to fill-out hard copies which we will input for them.

We had planned a World Contraception Day celebration in Côte d’Ivoire to occur on September 26th. Unfortunately, #WCD2015 activities we planned with Bayer HealthCare Country office in Côte d’Ivoire have been cancelled for security raisons due to the coming presidential election. We had planned to run a communication activity with the theme “Your Life, Your Responsibility” to help adolescents and young people to take control of their body and their life. 

As an alternative, we have promoted #WCD2015 at the University of Felix Houphouet Boigny using tee-shirts provided by Bayer HealthCare. It was very striking that most of student don’t know there is a day #Contraception are celebrated around the world. But now, I am sure that some of them who visited us, will remember that #Contraception is celebrated each year on September 26th.

The next step of the “Ivorian Youth Voices on Contraception” will consist of promoting the project website, organizing a workshop for young people on contraception, and creating an infographic regarding data we have collected from the online survey. The workshop will focused on Your Life campaign’s objectives “Know your body, Know your option,” with the goal of helping these young people to be well-informed about their options.

About World Contraception Day:

In support of World Contraception Day and Women Deliver’s Young Leaders Program, Women Deliver and Bayer will work in partnership on a three-year World Contraception Day (WCD) Ambassadors Project. The project equips young people with the skills they need to collect and share digital stories about young people’s SRHR and access to contraception in their home countries. The project includes a storytelling and digital media training, a seed grant, and advocacy opportunities for the Ambassadors to showcase their work at the international level. 

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Don't Mute My Microphone

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Don't Mute My Microphone

Over the past month, I was busy planning workshops to talk to young people from Georgia about contraception and to teach them how to use storytelling tools. While travelling to different regions of Georgia, I visited three villages, where I met inspiring young people who shared their stories and realities of their life and were candid issues within their villages. Interest to attend the workshops was high and it motivated me even more. I contacted local organizations and spread the word about the workshops and was able to secure free training space for every meeting. 

I was curious to see how young people would perceive and react to the topic with my expectations fluctuating during the planning process. My worries were gone when I finished the first workshop in Telavi. This was validation that young people should be engaged in planning, creating, and coordinating sexual and reproductive health programs. After the meeting in Telavi, I knew that A Story Map of Youth Voices was alive. 

I continued my travels which brought me to Batumi, the capital city of western Georgia. During the workshops every participant was asked to fill out a survey created for the project.  Most of the young people expressed dissatisfaction because they didn’t know contraception methods or topics mentioned in the survey although most of young people knew that those issues were affecting them and are part of their life. My third stop was Rustavi. Coincidentally, the workshop coincided with World Contraception Day, on September 26th. The Head of Administration from the Governors office, Mr. Levan Jhvania, joined us during the workshop to highlight the importance of access to contraception and sexual and reproductive health services. The event as broadcast on local television and I was able to talk about World Contraption Day and the goals of the A Story Map of Youth Voices project in Georgia. 

Some of the most salient issues the young people expressed during the workshops:

  • Youth reproductive health and rights are a low priority for their communities, yet most of the participants feel the lack of comprehensive sexuality education in and out of schools that impact the health outcomes of their peers. Young people feel that youth SRHR and contraception is not open for discussion, still tabooed in the families and communities, resulting in is a lack of awareness of reproductive and sexual rights and health issues. 
  • There is inadequate access to family planning information and services. Young people feel a lot of pressure, lack of confidentiality, and experience shame when accessing reproductive health services. Even though some young people have access to contraception through non-governmental organizations these services are not available to most of young people, especially in rural and mountainous regions. 
  • There is unmet contraceptive need and there are high numbers of teenage pregnancies. In some regions, girls are dropping out of school due to pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections rate, including HIV/AIDS, are rapidly growing. These are both of major concern for young people. 
  • Young people’s ability to vocalize these issues is something that needs to be supported and encouraged.  Even though young people talked about existing issues within the workshop, a challenge remains in telling the story to a larger audience. 

Most of the dialogue at the workshops was exploring the ways in which we can start the conversation about youth sexual and reproductive health and rights. Involving youth in SRH programming and breaking down barriers to youth being able access and use services is paramount. There is a need to tell #YouthStories about #SRHR and #contraception only through doing so can sustainable development, both economically and socially, be realized. 

About World Contraception Day:

In support of World Contraception Day and Women Deliver’s Young Leaders Program, Women Deliver and Bayer will work in partnership on a three-year World Contraception Day (WCD) Ambassadors Project. The project equips young people with the skills they need to collect and share digital stories about young people’s SRHR and access to contraception in their home countries. The project includes a storytelling and digital media training, a seed grant, and advocacy opportunities for the Ambassadors to showcase their work at the international level. 

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The Hurdles Thus Far…

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The Hurdles Thus Far…

As expected, I encountered a few bumps along the way reaching out to my target universities. Some of the directors of the student health centers expressed that there may not be enough time to get the necessary approval by World Contraceptive Day on September 26th. Adding to this was the time which would be required to receive IRB approval in order to collect data on the program. While I expected that time would be tight, I did not anticipate the delay between reaching out to the universities and their responses – placing my application for approval and IRB behind schedule. 

At the suggestion of a director of student health at one of my target universities, I shifted my project to smaller colleges. This actually was a benefit to my project as it allowed me to bring the educational material to setting with less established student health programs and hence to students with less access to contraceptive information. I am changing my focus to smaller colleges within the metropolitan area, ensuring that their students will get quality educational materials about contraception while also bringing awareness to the available options in the U.S. that better suits their lifestyle. 

National Women’s Law Center has been keeping in contact and sent me wonderful materials that will be distributed during the on-campus events to promote WCD and the CoverHer campaign. We are very excited to collaborate in bringing awareness to millennials in their undergraduate academic careers knowledge about their options when it comes to contraception methods. Providing resources to assist them in choosing the method that is best for them is our top priority. The one-hour webinar to train my volunteers/interns on SRHR and the CoverHer campaign will be set-up once the IRB process is completed at the colleges. 
 
I had also put out a job posting via NYU, seeking a Photo-Journalism major to assist me in producing and compiling the photostory project. 
This student will utilize the videography equipment I purchased to create a high quality video that can shared by various organizations within the U.S., as well as internationally, to promote the voices of millennials and their experience with SRHR as undergraduate students.

Lastly, as mentioned in my previous blog, I had created an Instagram account - @WCD_US. I have been posting photos as well as tweeting on my twitter handle, @SnehaKalayil, to gain support and bring awareness to this worthy cause. I am gaining new followers everyday on both platforms and I am looking forward to enhance my social media efforts once the photostory production is complete. 

Overall, the planning and execution phases have been a challenge when it comes to balancing work and personal life, as well as overcoming the unexpected and expected hurdles. The only way to combat these challenges is to continuously push forward and challenge myself to do better in order to make this project a reality.

About World Contraception Day:

In support of World Contraception Day and Women Deliver’s Young Leaders Program, Women Deliver and Bayer will work in partnership on a three-year World Contraception Day (WCD) Ambassadors Project. The project equips young people with the skills they need to collect and share digital stories about young people’s SRHR and access to contraception in their home countries. The project includes a storytelling and digital media training, a seed grant, and advocacy opportunities for the Ambassadors to showcase their work at the international level. 

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A Friend of Mine

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A Friend of Mine

Nairobi has been cold. The kind of cold that penetrates the hollows of your bones. You must understand that I just travelled from Dubai, where the heat has been unforgiving and relentless, on its mission to avenge a score that on my arrival I was not aware existed. I combined my vacation from my full time job with my World Contraception Day Project. I met with some friends in Nairobi and decided to interview them and engage them in a conversation about SRHR, contraception, and family planning. These conversations did little to warm my soul in the chilly Nairobi weather and the conversations I would have with a different set of young people in Mombasa would be even more chilling than the weather.

Going about my World Contraception Day Project has taught me several lessons thus far. I am learning many things that I did not know and getting to share my story and opinion with fellow young people. Three of the major issues I would like to highlight are as follows:

  1. The need for better ways to access contraception in Kenya’s rural areas is large and unmet. A friend of mine told me of her countryside (rural area) where there is only one dispensary that is kilometers away. The mode of transport is mostly by foot and one is never assured of getting the required services. The same story was repeated by a friend in my village, with many in Kitui suffering due the lack of SRH services. The contrast with the progress made in urban areas to ensure that these services are available to many is stark.
  2. While the Kenyan Constitution proclaims that health is a constitutional right for every citizen, this is only true on paper. Being able to choose when to have a child is of utmost importance to today’s youth. Ensure access to contraceptive choices is an obligation of local and national government, an obligation which must be fulfilled if improved standards of living, social, and economic development are goals for the country.
  3. Family planning and contraception are topics that a majority of people do not want to talk about directly. It’s always easier to talk about someone else or discuss a story we heard. It is, however, extremely difficult to just delve into a conversation about one’s own experiences and how involved one has been with contraception and sexual reproductive health activities. Parents need to engage their children and talk about SRHR because this conversation will happen somewhere else if they are not had at home. We cannot simply maintain silence on the topic. Through talking about someone else’s experience, it is simpler to ease into a conversation about ourselves and to share important information about contraceptives and SRH. I urge my readers to join the #AFriendOfMine Campaign to encourage more conversations about important SRHR issues. The main goal of the #AFriendOfMine campaign is to spread the word about contraception and sexual health – to help each new generation of adults make informed decisions so that every pregnancy in the world becomes a planned – and wanted - one.

I hope to keep learning from stories of young people because through their voices, I get a perspective that is raw and first hand. I also hope that young people in Kenya participate more, talk more, and raise their voices more about the sexual reproductive health and rights issues that affect them.

About World Contraception Day:

In support of World Contraception Day and Women Deliver’s Young Leaders Program, Women Deliver and Bayer will work in partnership on a three-year World Contraception Day (WCD) Ambassadors Project. The project equips young people with the skills they need to collect and share digital stories about young people’s SRHR and access to contraception in their home countries. The project includes a storytelling and digital media training, a seed grant, and advocacy opportunities for the Ambassadors to showcase their work at the international level. 

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International Youth Day Launch

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International Youth Day Launch

In honor of International Youth Day (IYD), the “Ivorian Youth Voices on Contraception” project has been officially launched with the support of Bayer HealthCare country office in Côte d’Ivoire. During a panel entitled “Youth panel on family planning and dividend demographic” organized to commemorate IYD, the project was officially introduced to young people and local partners.

The panel was attended by the Ministry of Health, the National Office of Population, UNFPA, representatives from civil society organizations, and young people. The panel created an opportunity to call for young people’s civic engagement, particularly in contraception, and to advocate for meaningful youth participation in family planning programs. The project’s objectives, activities, and expected outcomes were presented to stakeholders in order to encourage young people to participate through sharing of their experiences, opinions, and the change they want to see in their community as they related to sexual health and contraception. The project will consist of collecting videos, photos, and messages about sexual and reproductive health and contraception. I will run from August to October 2015 in Côte d’Ivoire and West and Central Africa. These material will be used to create film and catalogue that will be shared on the project website.

I call on fellow young people to tell me their thoughts and add their voices to the advocacy efforts aimed at ensuring access to contraception services and commodities for adolescents and young people through this survey. Even in this early stage of the project, young people have responded and have much to say. As one young woman said, “For me, youth engagement and promotion of contraception methods for young people can improve our personal development.”

Prior to the IYD event, I had promoted the WCD Ambassadors Project through social media, specifically Twitter and Facebook. Now that the official website has launched, I hope word of this project spreads and I hear many more strong youth voices.

About World Contraception Day:

In support of World Contraception Day and Women Deliver’s Young Leaders Program, Women Deliver and Bayer will work in partnership on a three-year World Contraception Day (WCD) Ambassadors Project. The project equips young people with the skills they need to collect and share digital stories about young people’s SRHR and access to contraception in their home countries. The project includes a storytelling and digital media training, a seed grant, and advocacy opportunities for the Ambassadors to showcase their work at the international level. 

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A Story Map of Youth Voices

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A Story Map of Youth Voices

A Story Map of Youth Voices Project will use a photography, video, and audio story compilation to tell individual stories of young people with different backgrounds from different regions of Georgia. Stories will be uploaded on a website and tagged on a map, which will allow readers to zoom in and read individual stories.

Since the start of the project I have been implementing Phase I activities that include research, development, and planning. I contacted local organizations that will be partnering with this project and at the moment I am having meetings and discussions with representatives to introduce the project and plan forward. Local organizations will get involved and engage young people from their networks to conduct workshops in 4 different regions in Georgia in order to collect stories and materials for the digital media campaign. 

The approach I chose for this project is to combine photo, video, and audio materials and tag individual stories to a place from which it was collected. It will be an interactive and curious way for audiences to engage in the conversation about the issues of contraception and access to reproductive health services. I believe that communicating the issues and ideas through this combination of creative digital media will help reach new audiences and assist in achieving projects advocacy goals.  I also plan to add visual research data on printed media there by translating complex numbers into stories, and making them accessible to people from the target audience who might be unaware of the statistics. The final project will give young people access to digital stories and increase knowledge about youth sexual and reproductive health and rights, and contraception.

A Story Map of Youth Voices Project will serve as an interactive tool for young people to communicate to policymakers and other partners about issues of youth reproductive health, family planning, and contraception in Georgia. The project is a digital storytelling platform for young people to use to improve SRHR. The website will be officially launched during the photo exhibition, to show policymakers and other partners the outcomes of the project and make young people’s voices heard.

At this stage of the project, we are identifying locations and working through the logistical aspects of the workshops in collaboration with partner organizations. Young people will be invited to participate in the workshops through completing a short survey. We intend to engage the participants and empower them to use the stories that are told through project to spread youth voices. I think storytelling is an excellent vehicle to share issues of young people SRHR with larger audiences and allow young people to advocate for SRHR. 

About World Contraception Day:

In support of World Contraception Day and Women Deliver’s Young Leaders Program, Women Deliver and Bayer will work in partnership on a three-year World Contraception Day (WCD) Ambassadors Project. The project equips young people with the skills they need to collect and share digital stories about young people’s SRHR and access to contraception in their home countries. The project includes a storytelling and digital media training, a seed grant, and advocacy opportunities for the Ambassadors to showcase their work at the international level. 

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Allies! Allies Everywhere!

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Allies! Allies Everywhere!

It's just about one month into the World Contraception Day Project, and after a couple technical false starts the project is developing nicely. The structure of my project involves both qualitative and quantitative data collection. This is a slightly boring way of saying that the end products will include statistics collected from the #WCDSurvey and some insightful personal stories from young people in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) about their experiences with contraceptives. In a region as vast and varied as LAC, it is no small task trying to reach out to young people and collect their stories, especially when talking about issues as private as sex and contraceptives. Going into this project I knew that in order to maximize participation I would need to rely on a wide network of allies throughout the LAC region.

The support of allies and friends in completing and sharing the survey and the promotional material for the project has been tremendous and I am truly grateful to them in getting the word out to even more young people. With this wider reach, in the short space of two weeks, the online survey has been completed by almost 100 young people in countries across the region and the numbers are increasing by the day! The project has been boosted even more by the excellent journalism of a committed feminist ally and freelance journalist based in my home country, Paula Lindo. Paula wrote a great full page article about the project which ran in last Sunday's edition of a popular daily newspaper in Trinidad and Tobago! This feature has really extended the project’s reach and helped push it into the next phase of filming interviews with young people. The footage from these interviews will be edited into a short film at the end of the project.

I promised a big reveal in my last blog post of the two other countries that will be the focus of this project. As promised, I am happy to announce that these countries are Belize and St. Lucia! I look forward to featuring both Kweyol and Spanish speaking youth voices in the final output! I traveled to Belize at the end of August to meet with young people there and listen to their stories and I will go St. Lucia this month. I am very fortunate once again to be working with some amazing allies, youth SRHR Advocate Elmer Cornejo and an exceptional Belizean attorney-at-law, Ms. Leslie Mendez! They have been incredibly helpful in connecting me with different communities and organizations operating within Belize.

Many exciting things lay ahead over the next couple months, filming starts soon and with each day we are recording new responses on the #WCDSurvey. Hearing from fellow young people has really contextualized for me the importance of this work in this region and the need to provide young people with improved services and information relating to contraception. The need is clear. One of our youth respondents had this to say, “I am not a virgin but I have not been sexually active in years. I am informed about contraceptive methods but I feel a lot of my peers are not. There should be more information available and less stigma toward educating youth so they are more comfortable accessing the health centers which have made efforts to do so.” Online spaces such as www.your-life.com have gone a long way towards providing young people with vital information but more must be done and the change starts with listening!

About World Contraception Day:

In support of World Contraception Day and Women Deliver’s Young Leaders Program, Women Deliver and Bayer will work in partnership on a three-year World Contraception Day (WCD) Ambassadors Project. The project equips young people with the skills they need to collect and share digital stories about young people’s SRHR and access to contraception in their home countries. The project includes a storytelling and digital media training, a seed grant, and advocacy opportunities for the Ambassadors to showcase their work at the international level. 

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Raising Awareness of ‘Knowing Your Options’ in the United States

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Raising Awareness of ‘Knowing Your Options’ in the United States

My project is currently moving along nicely. After the launch of the WCD Ambassador Program in July, I was contacted by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) to partner with their college campus initiative which provides services via http://www.coverher.org. We are very excited to collaborate, leveraging each other’s projects in the hopes of bringing awareness about contraceptive options to undergraduate women. Together, we aim to ensure that these millennials know their options when it comes to contraception methods and have the resources they need to choose the method that is best for them. To this end, NWLC will be providing print and digital materials that will be utilized at the university booths during the week of WCD. They will also set up an hour long webinar to train my volunteers/interns on SRHR and the CoverHer campaign.

Since my project launched, I have put out a call for two interns who will assist with on campus events during the week of WCD as well as with producing and compiling the photo-story project. The equipment needed to produce the photo-story has been ordered and it arrived this past week! I am hoping to create a high quality video that can be shared by various organizations within the US to promote the voices of millennials and their experience with SRHR as undergraduate students. I have also created an Instagram account - @WCD_US. I hope that using this social media platform will allow the photos and stories this project collects to be shared widely.

With the Affordable Care Act, most contraceptives can be accessed at little or no cost to the individual if they have health insurance. This means that cost in no longer a barrier to young people seeking contraceptives in the US! The issue is that not many millennials in the US are aware of the various methods and options that are available to them to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. They rely on one or two common methods (i.e. male condoms and “the pill”). They are not educated on the other methods that are statistically more effective at preventing unplanned pregnancies. I hope that this project will help to remedy that.

Overall, the initial planning and execution phase has been a challenge when it comes to balancing work and personal life along with this evolving project. I continue to feel inspired by the goal of having a “world where all pregnancies are wanted.” It motivates me to ensure that this project will increase awareness among millennials in the U.S. about their contraceptive options and, through doing so, help to reduce the rate of unintended pregnancies. 

About World Contraception Day:

In support of World Contraception Day and Women Deliver’s Young Leaders Program, Women Deliver and Bayer will work in partnership on a three-year World Contraception Day (WCD) Ambassadors Project. The project equips young people with the skills they need to collect and share digital stories about young people’s SRHR and access to contraception in their home countries. The project includes a storytelling and digital media training, a seed grant, and advocacy opportunities for the Ambassadors to showcase their work at the international level. 

 

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The World through Their Eyes: The Stories of Disabled Young People

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The World through Their Eyes: The Stories of Disabled Young People

We live in a world in which generally young people do not openly talk about sex. I took on a unique and challenging project, working to tell the stories of those who experience double stigma. In the past few weeks I have been talking to many activists in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights and activists on rights of young people with disabilities.  Together, we started our project by doing a multi-part situation analysis and landscape review of the situation faced by young people with disabilities in Sri Lanka with respect to their sexual and reproductive health (SRH).  As part of this process, we conducted a review of the national documents of Sri Lanka and I was taken aback to find out there is no reference to sexual and reproductive health of young people with disabilities. We also collected the contact details of the key stake holders who can support us and our project. After conducting a few key informant interviews, I realized the SRH of young people with disabilities is much more complicated that I thought. Even though the term “disability” seems confined, there are many different types of disabilities such as blindness, deaf, physical disabilities, and speech difficulties. It is also surprising that the government of Sri Lanka and other nonprofit organizations who are working on with young people with disabilities are completely silent on SRH of this group. Given this context, how are we going to ensure the SRH rights of young people with disabilities?

In addition to our consultation with activists we also meet with a group of young people with disabilities to discuss the script of the digital story advocacy video we will be producing. Most of the already available videos and recourses show the young people with disabilities in a patronizing way. As a team we have decided we will change this. We will make our video and the campaign in a positive, empowering way. I also understand that we cannot change the perception of the whole world through a 3-4 minutes video or campaign. The video will emphasis the relatability of young people with disabilities through putting the audience in the shoes of young people with disabilities and showing the barriers faced in accessing SRH services and information. 

Sex is a taboo for everyone regardless of caste, ethnicity, or nationality. I now clearly see that young people with disabilities also face this taboo. I found that many young people with disabilities are shy and avoid discussing sex even though that have questions. When I was talking to a few young people they said, “This idea is cool” but they need their parent’s or their caretaker’s consent to appear in the video. I feel that is reasonable and I am working with their caretakers in order to explain this project and gain informed consent. 

Our project team has decided, this campaign should not be just another “clicktivism” where people just share it on Facebook for likes. We are exploring ways to link online activism to offline sustainable impact. We will undertake a multi-sectoral approach in order to make differences in SRH of young people with disabilities. I strongly believe this campaign will provide key SRH stakeholders with an opportunity to listen to real life stories of young people with disabilities and understand the challenges they face with regard to accessing SRH and contraception.

I will keep you updated, so stay tuned!!! 

About World Contraception Day:

In support of World Contraception Day and Women Deliver’s Young Leaders Program, Women Deliver and Bayer will work in partnership on a three-year World Contraception Day (WCD) Ambassadors Project. The project equips young people with the skills they need to collect and share digital stories about young people’s SRHR and access to contraception in their home countries. The project includes a storytelling and digital media training, a seed grant, and advocacy opportunities for the Ambassadors to showcase their work at the international level. 

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Creating a More Complete Youth Narrative

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Creating a More Complete Youth Narrative

It's almost the beginning of the World Contraception Day Ambassadors Project and I am excited, inspired, and - honestly - a little overwhelmed by what the next few months will bring. I will be joining five other amazing young advocates in creating unique projects that represent the voices of young people from our respective regions. The fact that these projects are entirely youth-led, from development to execution, is really remarkable. Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of meeting with the other WCD Ambassadors and discussing how to develop and present our projects. It was very inspiring to work alongside other young people on issues relating to their health and sexual lives, and to benefit from their ideas. With this vibrant youth team at the helm, these projects will provide unique insights into young people’s opinions on and access to contraception. They will feature young people talking with other young people – with trust and respect.

In my region of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), we have the second highest regional rates of teenage pregnancy and HIV/AIDS in the world. In documenting the stories of young people over the next couple of months, I hope to speak to these challenges. I am very keen on highlighting the intersectional realities of race, gender, and class that give rise to the inequality and lack of agency amongst youth populations when it comes to sexual and reproductive health and rights. In developing the ideas and a focus for my project, I researched SRHR issues in the LAC region, discussed ideas with colleagues, and connected with allies at home and in the region to help shape the final outputs of the project. I serve as a Co-Director of WOMANTRA, a youth-led feminist non-profit organization based in my home country, so the input of my team, as well as our allies, is invaluable. 

Latin America and the Caribbean is a large and diverse region, with a mix of cultures, languages, and ethnicities. In an attempt to feature a broad spectrum of these voices, I am not focusing my project exclusively on my home country of Trinidad and Tobago, but also on a Kweyol (French Patois) and a Spanish-speaking country (see my next blog post for the big reveal of the target countries!). With these three countries as my focus, I am honing in on stories of young people that are not usually a part of the mainstream SRHR narrative, such as young people from more rural and under-resourced communities, LGBTQI young people, and other marginalized voices that are vital to a more complete understanding of young people's experiences with contraceptives.

The project’s activities will include a series of interviews with young people about their contraceptive choices and the factors that have influenced them. I will also distribute a questionnaire so I can gather data on the wider youth population within the project’s short span. When the data collection and storytelling is complete, they will both be weaved into a short film. This film will be a shareable, visual collective of youth stories on contraception from Latin America and the Caribbean. 

About World Contraception Day:

In support of World Contraception Day and Women Deliver’s Young Leaders Program, Women Deliver and Bayer will work in partnership on a three-year World Contraception Day (WCD) Ambassadors Project. The project equips young people with the skills they need to collect and share digital stories about young people’s SRHR and access to contraception in their home countries. The project includes a storytelling and digital media training, a seed grant, and advocacy opportunities for the Ambassadors to showcase their work at the international level. 

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Stories of Young People with Disabilities: My Motivation

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Stories of Young People with Disabilities: My Motivation

At the age of 11, I used to play with a girl near my home in the eastern part of Sri Lanka. One day, all of a sudden, the girl didn’t come to play. I was wondering why and asked my friend where she is. He replied, “She is a ‘big girl’ now.” That is the local term we use in Sri Lanka when girls reach puberty. A few weeks later, I saw her. There was no difference in her appearance. I asked the same friend, “You said she is a big girl, but she looks the same.” He replied, “She is mature now and ready to be a mother. If you touch her hand, she will get pregnant.” I was afraid to touch her hand, then, even when we were playing because I didn’t want to be a father at a young age. This is the reality of young people’s sexual and reproductive health (SRH) in Sri Lanka. I don’t feel that anything has significantly changed since then. 

We don’t have comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education in schools. We also don’t have youth-friendly health services. Most of the time, young people get information on SRH from peers. Sadly, the curiosity of young people can sometimes drive them to pornography, which is an inaccurate and misleading way of getting information. Due to the lack of youth-friendly SRH information and services in Sri Lanka, condom use - the best way to protect from HIV and STI’s - is a mere 6%. The current use of contraception is only 68%. This means that there are many unplanned pregnancies and between 125,000 and 175,000 abortions are performed annually. Personally, I have many friends who have experienced an unsafe abortion and struggle with other SRH issues.  This made me want to do something. It pushed me to activism. Sexual health has become my passion and profession.

I started my SRHR activism at the grassroots level. I got the opportunity to work with a variety of young people, including marginalized youth, sex workers, people living with HIV/AIDS, and young people with disabilities. I realized that the SRH of young people with disabilities is a huge issue and no one is actually working on this in Sri Lanka. Young people with disabilities have the same sexual and reproductive health needs as other people. Yet, they often face barriers to accessing information and services.

This issue deserves particular attention because it has been so widely and deeply neglected. I couldn’t find any reference to the SRH of young people with disabilities in the National Health Policy for Disability, National Youth Policy, or National Health Policy of Sri Lanka. There is no platform for young people with disabilities to raise their voices.  I strongly believe in the power of meaningful conversations and I feel that there is no meaningful conversation happening in Sri Lanka right now regarding the sexual and reproductive health of young people with disabilities.

Being a WCD Ambassador gives me the power to talk about the untold stories of young people with disabilities’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.  I am ready to carry out a visual media advocacy campaign using digital storytelling methodology to emphasize the importance of recognizing the sexual and reproductive health of young people with disabilities in my country. The main objective of this project is to initiate meaningful discussions among young people, policymakers, and key decision-makers on the challenges that young people with disabilities face in accessing SRH information and services.

I am calling my project ‘”It’s Not a Different Sex - Stories of Young People with Disabilities.” I am ready to tell you the untold stories of our friends with disabilities. It is time to do something about their SRH. What will YOU do?

About World Contraception Day:

In support of World Contraception Day and Women Deliver’s Young Leaders Program, Women Deliver and Bayer will work in partnership on a three-year World Contraception Day (WCD) Ambassadors Project. The project equips young people with the skills they need to collect and share digital stories about young people’s SRHR and access to contraception in their home countries. The project includes a storytelling and digital media training, a seed grant, and advocacy opportunities for the Ambassadors to showcase their work at the international level. 

SRH issues source: Adolescent Sexual & Reproductive Health in Sri Lanka: A Situational Analysis (UNFPA) 2012

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