Portraits of West African Youth

7 Décembre 2006
Author: UNFPA

GUINEA BISSAULast month, more than 80 youth representatives from 10 West African countries met here for the subregional meeting of the Youth Forum on young people’s involvement in meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) related to population and development. They committed themselves to carrying out concrete actions on sexual and reproductive health, education, poverty alleviation and peace promotion to improve the lives of youth throughout the region. The forum brought together representatives from 10 member countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), including Benin, Burkina-Faso, Cape Verde, the Gambia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger, the Republic of Guinea, and Senegal. Learn of the hopes and aspirations, the challenges and constraints, facing West African youth today, in their own words:

Nadine Azifan, 25

Photographer and financial officer for the Youth Network for Gender, Population and Development

I’m here to participate in the regional youth forum to help us achieve our Millennium Development Goals. In my home country, I am participating in putting our network in place. Regarding population and development, there are a wide range of problems, including poverty and young people, HIV/AIDS, drugs, everything. Young people must work together in order to achieve the MDGs. Young people can make decisions and can help influence their government leaders’ decisions. It’s really important for young people to act together, because young people today are the leaders of tomorrow. We are building a foundation together for tomorrow’s world.

Bagnomboe’ Bakiono, 33

Executive Secretary of AfriYAN, the African Youth and Adolescents Network on Population and Development

We need a forum like this not only to reinforce the links of solidarity among youth in the subregion but also to install a communication climate to share experiences on our initiatives. We want to find solutions to problems that youth are confronted with – like HIV/AIDS, unwanted pregnancies, forced and early marriage, the question of education for young girls, the question of employment, the reduction of poverty and youth participation in influencing decisions. This forum allows us to bridge borders to communicate with each other and work together. This helps to reinforce our regional brotherhood. Regional African integration begins with youth. We are the means of finding a solution for our problems. This type of forum allows us to act as one entity, passing beyond borders. We all have similar problems, and we share similar strategies for resolving these sorts of problems. There are countries that have already evolved, and there are others that still in the process of evolving – they can learn from others on how they can improve, the methodology of how to do it, what works and what doesn’t. This forum creates a favourable environment for the development and the promotion of youth.

Marise Evora Sagna, 25

National Director of the Creative Youth Center, Ministry of Youth and Sports

I just came from the Addis Ababa meeting. I’m representing the youth of Cape Verde and the ministry that serves them. I think these regional meetings should be held more often so that youth can work to find solutions for themselves. We need to have follow-up. Youth need to stop playing the victims. We can help ourselves. Youth need to be given the opportunity and conditions to work in. We face many challenges – there’s too much bureaucracy, complicated legislation and even obstacles within society for young business people. We need not only opportunities but also the means to accomplish them. The lack of trust and belief in youth is a constraint. We have too often concentrated on quantity but not always on quality. We need to invest in quality. For me, I have the double challenge as a youth and as a woman. We seriously need to eliminate stereotypes.

Pa Malick Ceesay, 29

Executive Secretary of the Gambian National Youth Council

We are discussing the problems of youth and adolescents, of their reproductive health and development. Young people have a role in solving these problems, because they are the most vulnerable when it comes to HIV/AIDS and their reproductive health. They need to know their reproductive health rights. They need to be aware of the dangers surrounding early marriage, teenage pregnancy, unwanted pregnancy, as well as HIV/AIDS. At this forum, we map our strategies and the way forward in addressing these problems. The forum also will look at charters within Africa and harmonize them together. We are looking at various recommendations made from Dakar, Abuja and Lusaka to make possible suggestions for the implementation of some realistic goals. After the forum, young people in the Gambia will strengthen their efforts in the area of reproductive health and HIV/AIDS to continue some of the positive initiatives that have already been started (in the country).

David Aburabura, 22

Part of a working group trying to set up a youth network in Ghana

This forum is very important now as we are developing a youth network in Ghana. There is a lot of knowledge that we young people need to share so that we can develop equally in Africa. If we do not form networks, there will come a time when one country will be more developed than another. Some of us in the African network are also involved in networks worldwide, which have information we can also share with our friends here. Most youth in Ghana have not been able to receive the education that will help them get a decent job. There is a problem of unemployment. Even those who have certificates don’t get jobs, because there aren’t enough jobs in the country. When it comes to HIV/AIDS, the youth are the most affected, because they don’t have much information on their sexuality. It’s important that we make information available, youth-friendly and accessible nationwide. Organizations working with youth should build the capacity of the young people they are working with so they can contribute effectively to the development process.

Seco Djassi, 29

Executive Secretary of the National Forum of Youth and Development

After the Dakar meeting it was decided to have the second forum here. We had four concerns: Young people have problems with their sexual and reproductive health. We also wanted youth to be involved in the social-economic life of our countries in the region. Our third concern was education and the high levels of students dropping out of school. Finally, we wanted to try to promote peace in the region. There are also problems with drugs and HIV/AIDS. These are all problems affecting each of us in the region, and we need to strengthen our education and capacity for dealing with these issues. Training is important if we are to take up our role in a few years in leading the fight on these issues. Young people are contributing strongly to developing these issues regionally. Our work must be integrated and realistic. Following that path together we can truly make progress. Our goal is to have a realistic and concrete plan of action that will serve as a base for addressing the problems that young people face day-to-day.

Mariko Assanatou, 27

HIV/AIDS Peer Educator

I think HIV/AIDS is a major concern throughout the region. In Mali, now with sensitization and information, youth are beginning to know how they can protect themselves against HIV/AIDS. Even if they are not going to school, they are being sensitized to the dangers of the virus. Each year, from 1 through 31 December, there are caravans that travel throughout the country on a mission to sensitize and mobilize young people about the disease. The caravans perform theater and games, conduct discussions and lead question and answer sessions. I think it is very important to work with our regional peers to develop strategies to try to control the spread of HIV/AIDS. Each country has its own strategy. This forum will help us to improve our work at the country level from what we have learned here. Young people in Mali are mobilized to stop this disease.

Layla Fatou Hassane, 22

Head of the Commission for the Promotion of Sexual and Reproductive Health, National Youth Network

This is an arena to exchange ideas and put these proposals into a plan of action. In our country, we are bringing together young leaders from all over. It’s necessary to have forums like this to see what other countries are doing in the area of reproductive and sexual health to help young people. I will present what I have learned here to my peers. Youth and employment, society and politics, HIV/AIDS -- these are the topics that really interest me. I will bring this information back with me to Niger. It’s really important to meet others who are working for the same things so we can form partnerships with them. In Niger, we are working hard to eliminate stigma against people living with HIV/AIDS.

Mabinty Sylla, 22

Head of Communications for the Population and Development Youth Network

These exchanges allow us to understand the challenges other countries and other cultures are facing and the advantages they have as well. When we return to our home countries, we will give a summary of all that we have learned to our home associations. We must collaborate with others to implement new initiatives. We must communicate with others. We need to see what is happening in the region and exchange information. Young people have good initiatives that they cannot always implement. There are delegates who could not come here today, because they were not funded. Governments must take us seriously and give us the resources that we need to take action. Young people also must be conscious of the responsibilities that they face.

Malick Diop, 34

Coordinator of the Youth and Population Sub-Regional Network

We want to work together in synergy and coordinate to better organize our activities. We want to avoid duplication to maximize our efforts. It’s important to create a mechanism for regional coordination and an exchange of information to reinforce our competencies and to clarify our interventions to our national memberships. That way, we can maximize opportunities for fundraising and lobbying governments among our partnership, which strengthens our credibility and the respect for our work. Extreme poverty encourages the flow of disease, illegal immigration, prostitution, drugs and difficult access to education. HIV/AIDS is a menace to youth throughout the region. This is a subregion largely composed by young people. The levels of infection in some countries increase poverty levels and impede development. We are convinced that youth are key to stemming the tide of this epidemic by mobilizing young people. We are the victims, but we are also the solution by placing HIV/AIDS at the heart of our efforts.

Contact Information:

Angela Walker
Tel.: +(221) 5080745

Guy De Araujo
Tel.: +245-203639

Population : 2 mil
Taux de fertilité
Ratio de mortalité maternelle
Taux de prévalence contraceptive
Population âgée de 10 à 24 ans

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