06 Nov 2016

Youth Voices and participation through Youth Parliaments in Lira district, Northern Uganda

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The youth in Uganda are at least 78 % of the population according to the Uganda National Population Census 2014. This youth surge remains a critical development discussion at global, regional, national and local levels. To make a contribution to youth organizing, empowerment and leadership for development, GLOFORD Uganda has designed and is implementing an innovative youth empowerment, social accountability and leadership mentorship model dubbed Youth Parliament. The parliament recognises the critical role that should be played by youth leadership in collaboration with other actors and leaders in addressing youth and community challenges.

The youth parliaments are constituted at sub county levels and brings together youth political leaders, youth entrepreneurs, youth CBO leaders and other identified active youth at the community. An assembly of utmost 100 young people is caused at the beginning from which these youth are oriented on the model and they debate it and amend where necessary. On the same day, an election is conducted or the 25-30 members of the parliament and the parliament elects a speaker, Deputy, clerk, and sub committees of education, Health, Children and Youth Affairs as agreed by them but guided by GLOFORD. After this, capacity building areas are identified, a rigorous capacity building are conducted through capacity building and ongoing mentorships before embarking on active engagements.

The model is premised on the fact that youth have dreams and high interest in leadership and development but they are always underestimated, marginalized and rarely involved at all levels in society because of their approach to issues and coupled with limited knowledge by leaders and negative attitude towards young people. This attitude towards the youth doesn’t change the fact that the youth are critical drivers of change and development and yet with great and untapped potential that should be nurtured by adult role models. The Youth Parliament is a model that builds an active citizenry, empowerment and development driven and guided by young people that draws upon their energy, development creativity and skills to create positive change. It values, positions and utilizes young people as assets for society as well as engaging young people as leaders, beneficiaries and partners in the development, governance and leadership of self, communities and nation with global perspective

In 2015, with Funding from USAID GAPP program, GLOFORD started implementing this innovation in 2 sub counties and 4 divisions of Lira Municipality. Through the model, the capacity of youth leaders and entrepreneurs have been built. To date, youth participation in governance, leadership and development in targeted sub counties of Lira have been enhanced. The project has continued to develop and nurture 6 youth parliaments spread across the 6 project locations as mentorship hubs for youths in governance, leadership, accountability and citizenship. GLOFORD is working with these youth and strengthening their democratic values through meaningful participation, personal (individual youth) initiatives, and social accountability movement led by young people now evident in local leaders’ responsiveness to youth issues at sub county, Municipal and district levels reinforced by consensus dialogues and strategic engagements.

Although much has been achieved through active participation of these young people, it is also common knowledge that working with the youth is a complex whole. At the project started in 2015, youth mobilization was a huge challenge. The youth were very suspicious and thought that this project was just like others previously implemented in their areas by other partners. They alleged that development actors normally engage them but at the end they remain hanging because most of the interventions end with project closure.

As we began, the youth thought the project was going to provide handouts inform of money, seed grants etc but we kept explaining the project model to them. At some point they also thought we had brought them together to support in GLOFORD program implementation which later they discovered was not the case. This was evident from the feedback the youth were giving through different meetings and interactions conducted at sub county levels. They were demanding for facilitation, tags for identification, transport means and so on. We continued to enlighten them and challenged them that for a long time young people had claimed they were being ignored and each intervention did not directly involve them.

We had series of meetings and dialogues to try and address mind-set and approaches which would compromise change that we had envisioned. This we explained was the reason behind Youth Parliament which is a platform of youth political leaders, youth entrepreneurs, youth CBO leaders and a mentor like GLOFORD to encourage and guide young people to engage each other, be involved and lead development processes while working with leaders and development actors at all levels without confrontation for the good of all. We challenged them to lead and strengthen the parliaments for them amplify their voices on youth issues.

As we continued, the youth more youth discovered the parliaments were very important to them. In quarter one 2015, less than 30% of the targeted youth participate in community meetings organized by the parliaments supported by GLOFORD team.

By end of year 2015, youth parliament members were now in the lead organizing adhoc community meetings which were being attended by leaders from sub county and division levels. The participation level by youth rose from about 30% to more than 60% in different sub county activities targeting young people. This has been achieved through more awareness creation and working with youth leaders at all levels. Through business development mentorships, 39% target youths are now engaged in urban and peri-urban businesses with some of them having accessed Youth Livelihood Program funds from their sub counties/divisions.

GLOFORD together with the youth leaders are working on right to education, health and right to adequate standard of living by strengthening governance, participation and linkages of the youth to health services at HC IIs and IIIs, monitor and report on primary school performance and livelihood development opportunities in the 6 sub counties.

As a result the youth parliaments have expanded opportunities for youth and communities and to access health services through community health camps and mobilization for health services at HCs. The relationship with HC staff have been strengthened and the youth are now working alongside HC staff to conduct health out reaches.

The youth have engaged the HC staff and secured days within a week/month that are dedicated for provision of youth friendly serices at the 6 HC IIIs in the project area. For instance, at Barapwo H/C III in Lira Sub County at the Anti-Retroviral Therapy clinic, Tuesday and Wednesdays have been allocated by the HC and a Nursing officer attached to serve young people. As a result, young people are accessing sexual reproductive health information, VCT, health tips and other personal issues affecting individual youth is acted on by the Nursing officer. More so, all the HC IIIs in the other 5 sub counties have also allocated days within a week/month for young people. Through these initiatives at least 1,082 youths (743 females, 339 males) have accessed youth friendly health services at different health Centre’s and during community health camps recorded this year up to August 2016.

To strengthen education for the girl child, the youth parliaments have been actively engaged in monitoring, reporting to relevant authorities challenges affecting primary schools within their communities. The youth parliament members were challenged to identify one primary school in their community, research about the issues and work with leaders on the appropriate actions. The Youth Parliament in Barr identified Abunga Primary School. In Barr Sub County at Abunga primary school, the youth noted high drop out of girls including those who were already in primary seven. When they visited the school in June 2015, they found 16 girls in primary seven who had registered for UNEB. In September 2016, they went back to monitor the performance of school and through interactions with pupils, teachers and administration, 6 primary school girls had already left school. The youth together with the school authorities looked for the girls and 3 (50%) were restored back to school and finally sat for exams.

Through biannual youth parliament days conducted every quarter and biannually at every Sub County and district level, young people have been able to engage political and technical leaders on youth. These engagements are at both sub county/division and district levels, issues and actions were generated, documented. Both engagements included representatives of Youth Parliaments, technical and political representatives from sub counties/divisions, political and technical representatives from Lira district and Lira Municipal Local Government. At this level, effective management of the youth parliament has been on the advocacy agenda of the youth parliament.

We continue to build on to improve on this model based through continuous learning and documentation of good practices.