Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Youth Bandwagon

By Tessie San Martin, President and CEO, Plan International USA
Earlier this week, we celebrated International Youth Day. But, even without an official United Nations-sanctioned day to provoke commentary, it seems as if everyone has something to say about this demographic. It is interesting that the UN’s definition seems to be more about what this demographic can be than what it is: Youth, it states, “is best understood as a period of transition from the dependence of childhood to adulthood’s independence and awareness of our interdependence as members of a community.” Youth, it seems, is about potential. Let’s come back to that in a bit.  
Depending on how you age-bracket “youth,” we are talking large numbers: almost 2 billion, over 50 percent of the world’s population. Irrespective of the exact ages defining “youth,” youth are the dominant demographic. Go online and search youth bulge and you will get millions of hits. It seems that every organization – public, private, for-profit, and nonprofit – has something it wants to say about youth or to youth; we all want to engage them, mobilize them, protect them, work with them, help them, pitch them.  But how many of us really want to listen to them? How well equipped/prepared are we to do this? Equally important, how prepared are we, once we have heard what youth are telling us, to change our strategies and plans, in response to what we are hearing?
The organization I represent, Plan International, works on behalf of and with children and youth. For Plan, effective youth participation is a strategic asset and not a “tick-the-box” exercise. We have established youth in governance structures at different levels – in the local community, and at the national and international levels to encourage and facilitate. Globally, 24 countries have established Youth Advisory Boards, eight youth serve on a global steering committee to develop strategies for youth governance, and nine countries have a youth member on their Board of Directors.  We also have a youth board member at the U.S. national office and youth representation on Plan's Members Assembly – the Plan Federation’s governing body.   
Making all of this work, and I mean really work – so that it leads to meaningful rather than tokenistic engagement – takes constant commitment.  You have to address “adultism.” This means that adults often have to modify their behavior, delivery, and methods of engagement in a work environment when young people are participating. Staff need to be skilled in this (and coached/trained), and the organization needs to devote time to creating a safe environment for meaningful participation (one that encourages all opinions and makes it safe to dissent). We have found it is useful to have mentors at all levels of the organization. Bottom line: It requires that you adapt timelines for planning, design, and execution; change staffing patterns; and  invest in training. You need to ensure there is appropriate time to prepare youth to engage effectively with the organization and prepare the organization to engage effectively with youth.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Children, Migration, Violence, and Inequality

Post By: By: Matthew Carlson, Deputy Regional Director, Programs, Plan International

The extraordinary levels of violence in some Central American countries have created a massive wave of children traveling alone to the United States.
Plan is working to protect
children in South America,
like this girl in Guatemala.

The families usually send them to save them from their everyday lives filled with violence, from the “maras”, or gangs, so they are not recruited, murdered, or raped. Others are sent to reunite with families in search of a better life, one with access to basic needs such as drinkable water, food, and education.

It is an emergency humanitarian crisis, and it ́s important to remember that we are talking about children, whose best interest should always come first.

I visited the border last month and saw firsthand the dangers these children face – and are still exposed to – due to lack of resources to provide the protection they need.

Some 19.1 million children live in Central America; they make up 40 percent of the population. Last estimates reveal that at least 13 out of 20 Central American children live in poverty (12.4 million), and almost half live in extreme poverty (6.4 million, according to CEPAL). 80 percent of the children living in poverty come from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, which are also the most violent countries in the region.

According to UN studies, unsolved armed conflicts, inhumane work conditions, drug and human trafficking, corruption, huge inequalities, and a patriarchal society are some of the factors that have generated gangs, better known as “maras,” converting this tiny region into the most violent in the world.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Africa Has Big Plans

Post By: Justin Fugle, Senior Program Manager, Plan International USA

Africa has big plans. It is a continent with more peaceful, stable, democratic countries than ever before. It is a continent with some of the fastest growing economies in the world. It is a continent with increasing opportunities for women and youth. And, it is still a continent with more than its share of conflict, poverty, and corruption. But it is certainly both of those things these days. Africa knows what Africa needs, and its leaders and citizens are more capable than ever. 
So, all of us need to update our views of Africa, recognize its potential and opportunities, and support the agenda of Africa’s leaders and citizens so they can achieve and sustain their development goals. 
That is what I have learned this week participating in the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, which has brought more than 50 African heads of state to Washington, DC to meet with President Obama and many of the other most senior officials of the U.S. Government. The African leaders have also met with CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, who have pledged $14 billion in new investments by their companies in Africa. What’s more, 500 young African leaders have expressed their vision and plans to their leaders, President Obama, the First Lady, Secretary of State, Members of Congress, and to development organizations like Plan. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

YUGA Leadership Summit: My Seat Next to Hope

Post By: Tracy Allen, Consultant to YEA/YUGA, Plan International USA

Last Friday, we ended the week-long 2014 Youth United for Global Action and Awareness (YUGA) Leadership Summit. Kids who had been there before knew that I would be very emotional sharing what I got from the week and my feelings about each and every one of the participants as they head out to make a difference in the world. 
When you have been through a week of learning about global issues of dire importance and working together to figure out how to make positive change, you are both depleted and exhilarated as you reach the fifth day. Throw in some dancing, soccer, late night conversations, sing-a-longs, tons of laughing, and sleeping on a dorm room mattress, you get a fuller picture of the YUGA Summit experience. You might be able to see the appeal (minus the mattress) of this yearly event and why I have returned for four summers. 
As an educator, this week is like an intense school year in five days. The first day of the Summit is like the first day of school in September. Returning participants run to greet each other and catch up. New Summit-teers size up the others, anxious and excited to see what kind of kids will be there and what the programming for the week will be.  We slowly get our feet wet with a couple of workshops and the traditional getting-to-know-you activities.

Michelle Obama Got It Right: Gender Equality is about Attitudes and Beliefs

Post By: Post by Marcia Odell, Senior Gender Advisor, Plan International USA

Michelle Obama got it just right when, in her address at the Summit of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders last Wednesday, she pointed out that when it comes to the role of girls and women in Africa, “the problem…isn’t only about resources, it’s also about attitudes and beliefs.” Ms. Obama went on to observe incisively, “I am who I am today because of the people in my family – particularly the men in my family – who valued me and invested in me from the day I was born.” 

I am fortunate to be working for a group, Plan International, which appreciates the importance of engaging men and boys in promoting gender justice. Through its programming Plan has learned, mostly in projects in Latin American,  some important lessons when it comes to engaging brothers and fathers, uncles and grandfathers, in the enormous and challenging job of tackling the root causes of gender inequality – of achieving gender justice. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How is “Open Defecation Free” Helping to Define Progress?

Post By: Lauren Yamagata, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Associate, Plan International USA

An important part of project implementation is monitoring and measuring how we achieve our goals.

One of the two main goals of the Cambodia Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Improvement Program (CR-SHIP) is to increase access to improved sanitation in communities where the current level of sanitation is below 50 percent of the population.  Plan is working to implement this program (funded by the Global Sanitation Fund of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council) through other local and international NGOs, as well as the government in Cambodia.  Plan promotes “Community-led Total Sanitation,” which encourages communities to take ownership of their behaviors and recognize the positive benefits of adopting improved sanitation. 

So what does achievement look like in this situation?
Staff from Plan and its partner organization CESVI,
meeting with a local village chief and
Village Development Committee
members to discuss their challenges.

The key target for the project is “Open Defecation Free” (ODF), which means that a village or community has over a certain percent of the population using toilets instead of pooping out in the open. With this type of target, you either “are” or you “aren’t.”  So, until villages hit the threshold where they can be certified as achieving ODF status, they are still considered non-ODF, despite any progress that has been made.  This leaves a large gap in our understanding of how villages are making gains in access prior to their reaching the target.

Plan recognizes the importance of using research to improve its programs.  We developed a survey tool for partners to increase the detail in data that is collected, particularly on the villages that have not yet achieved ODF status.  With the new data, we can compare the sanitation access currently, to the level at the start of the project.  We can look for trends in the villages that achieved ODF quickly, we can learn about the characteristics of how villages adopt the approach and how that impacts their success at ODF achievement, and ultimately we can start to adjust and target villages with additional support to reach the goal.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Turning Paper to Action – Ending FGM and Child Marriage

Post By: Carol Sherman, Plan Kenya Country Director

The Girl Summit in Kenya aimed to end FGM and child marriage.

Around the world, girls and women are forced to live with the consequences of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and early marriage.

Although Kenya has made strides in outlawing FGM and child marriage, as well as protecting children’s rights, such practices are still rampant.

Often motivated by cultural beliefs, FGM can lead to early marriage and health complications and is often forced upon girls aged 7 to 12.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Children of Syria…A Generation at Risk

Post By: Arjimand Hussain, Emergency Response Manager, Plan International

Vulnerable Syrian refugee children in Egypt live a life of misery, despair, and challenging school conditions. Plan International is trying to make quality education possible for some of them and improve their lives.

Sitting on the sands of the Mediterranean coast in Alexandria, Egypt on a June evening, 11-year-old Nada asks her mother if she will ever be able to see her father again and go back to her school in Syria. Her mother gives her hope:

“Yes of course, my dear, very soon,” her mother says. 

The fact is that Syrian children like Nada may not be able to go back to their country any time in the near future. Syria's conflict rages on.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Development Goals Face Challenges if we Don’t Start Counting Every Child

Post By: Nicoleta Panta, Count Every Child Advocacy Manager for Plan International

Imagine a typical family photo. You've got mom and dad there, looking happy and proud. You have the kids with their beaming smiles, all cheerful and mischievous. It's a happy moment, captured in time, everyone in their rightful place, and everyone accounted for.

Looking at that family picture, you can clearly see how many of them there are. If you're the one in charge of their wellbeing, you have a good idea of how big their house needs to be, how much food they probably go through in a week, who is going to school, and who is going to be looking for a job soon – all from that picture.

But let's imagine that one of the family members is suddenly not in the picture. Imagine little Maria vanishes, leaving an empty, unfilled space. She's still somewhere, but she's not in the photo. We think we can see everyone, but someone's missing. Again, if you're the one responsible for looking after that family, how could you make that child count without being able to count her?
Plan civil registration event at
City Hall in Paraguay as part of a
"Right to Identity" program.

That's the kind of question we need to ask ourselves as we look towards the post-2015 development agenda, beyond the completion of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) next year. But, we aren't talking about just one family; we are talking about entire populations.

That picture is similar to the systems countries have in place to monitor major life events like births, deaths, and marriages. These civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) systems give governments the data they need to plan for the present and future needs of everyone living in a country.

Got a lot of school-aged children in the north, but not enough schools, teachers, and books? Time to do something about that. Are a lot of people dying from polio in the south? Could be an outbreak. You'll need to make sure you have enough health centers, doctors, and vaccines in order to contain it.

There are huge benefits for everyone if governments can get a firm hold of when, where, and how many people are born – and also how many people die. This information is invaluable as it informs decisions on everything from where you need to build schools, to what vaccines are required, to where infrastructure should be developed.

You might think that this problem isn't that widespread, yet the stats don't lie: more than 100 developing countries around the world don't have efficient, well-functioning CRVS systems.

This has led to a situation today in which 230 million children 5 years old or younger are invisible because they haven’t had their births registered. Their governments don't even know they exist.