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.