youth empowerment workshop

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My friend, Zoe, is a Community Economic Development (CED) volunteer. Her host organization approached her about tackling the issues of high youth pregnancy rates leading to increased school dropouts, lack of sexual reproductive health (SRH) education, and lack of motivation and education for youth to plan for their careers and long-term success.

As a special treat, Zoe helped me write this post.

Your Future, Your Choice

Many times men are left out of the conversation about SRH, citing it as only a woman’s “problem.” A portion of the workshop addressed the stigma around sex and pregnancy which is useful knowledge for all. With the endorsement of her supervisor, Patrick Masiziani, Zoe created a pilot program called “Your Future, Your Choice,” to address SRH to both men and women to help empower all to make good choices regarding their sexual health and encourage youth to look ahead to a bright career.

Peace Corps Volunteers are highly encouraged to collaborate with volunteers across sectors. Zoe and Patrick invited me to co-facilitate the health aspect of the program with Apollonia, an HIV/AIDS Trainer from a local vocational technical centre (VTC). Together, we debunked myths about sex and pregnancy, provided information and proper instruction on protection and contraceptives, as well as tools for having a healthy relationship.

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The career development portion was led by Peace Corps Volunteers Rachael, Justin, and Zoe.

In Namibia, the reality is that many business owners enter into an extremely over-saturated market selling produce, airtime, and other common goods and services.

Rachael, Justin, and Zoe led discussions on finding your career path, developing career plans, career preparations which included resume/interview readiness and goal setting. Justin also led a discussion on financial stability with an emphasis on savings.

About 70 youth were in attendance at the 3-hour workshop. We sadly had to turn some away who hadn’t pre-registered for the event. I like to believe that everyone left the workshop feeling empowered in their health choices and future careers.

“On a daily basis we see issues such as rape, sexual abuse, and cases of domestic and gender based violence. In our daily papers, on the TV news, and even first hand, we witness these events. I want to believe a workshop of this nature has addressed these issues and empowered trainees with ways to deal if they find themselves in such situations.” – Patrick Masiziani

Zoe’s thoughts leading up to the workshop:

This was my first time planning an event as a Volunteer and also my first collaboration. I wanted to everything to go as smooth as possible in hopes that trainees would see value in the workshop and staff would support an annual event of this nature. I was so grateful to have the support of other volunteers across the CED and Health sectors, because they were able to help fill in the gaps where I had little or no experience. And that’s why collaborations are so great. They really helped me work through logistics like measurement and evaluation, reporting, and most importantly, creating content to share during the workshop.

Leading up to the workshop was a bit hectic. First, our centre got word that our electricity may be cut off which would mean no lights, presentation, or air con in a room of 80 people. Because this wouldn’t have been a conducive learning environment, we agreed we would postpone if there was no electricity. Luckily, my supervisor worked tirelessly to get the issue resolved and we were able to continue with the event as planned. The morning of, I learned we did not have the proper equipment to use with the projector. Things we did have included (1) a compatible laptop with no charger (2) an incompatible laptop with a charger (3) an incompatible HDMI cable. Ah, the joys of technology. After about 2 hours and with the help of a few trainers, we finally found a VGA cable that connected to the laptop with a charger. Two hours before the start time, one of our facilitators told me she couldn’t make it anymore and I almost had a meltdown. Turns out she was joking.

I was pleasantly surprised at how well the workshop went, despite the scramble prior. The health portion was especially engaging for trainees, and they asked question after question about what seemed to be first-hand experiences. The fact that they felt comfortable enough to ask these questions in front of a group of 70+ others gave me confidence that we accomplished our goal in making the forum a “safe space” experience. In fact, their curiosity on subjects like healthy relationships and voluntary medical male circumcision made me realize that these topics need to be addressed more often. Krystal’s approach in opening the workshop played a big role in their comfortability, too. She started out talking about how “we’re all adults” and how treating them like they were all practicing abstinence was unrealistic. Because it’s true! They’re having sex, its reality. Playing that angle was key because it made them feel like she was talking with them, not at them.

Unfortunately, the amount of time spent on health limited our time to discuss career preparation topics. Originally we had talked about a four hour event, but ended up being limited to three so as not to interfere with other classes that trainees were required to attend. After we wrapped the health portion and took a break, we were only left with 40 minutes for goal setting, budgeting, CV and interviewing tips. While this wasn’t ideal, I’m glad we didn’t rush health because that’s a topic I’m definitely not as knowledgeable in and I’m always available to help trainees edit CVs and apply for interviews. In the future, I would make it a two day event so that we have enough time to cover material, do activities and answer all questions.

I definitely learned a lot during this workshop and have identified numerous way to improve next time around. My advice to volunteers who want to host an event or something similar is to just go for it. It might be a success or it might be a failure, but either way you’ll learn a lot in the process. And chances are that, even despite potential chaos, your colleagues and community will appreciate the effort put in.

❤ Krystal