The recently released Youth in Development policy from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) puts youth squarely on the map in international development. As a supporter of positive youth development, I was particularly happy to see support for the engagement of youth, “elevating their voices and ensuring meaningful opportunities to contribute to resolving issues and promoting positive change in their communities and nations.”
Putting young people in the driver’s seat of the development of their communities and countries actually works. Several years ago, on the hot, dusty streets of N’Djamena in Chad, I walked alongside pairs of energetic young people sporting white shirts, blue backpacks and baseball caps. The young women and men were interviewing community members in an outdoor market using a process we taught them called Community YouthMapping (CYM). Their goal was to collect data about gaps in services and opportunities for young people in the neighborhood. The same exercise was taking place throughout N’Djamena in diverse neighborhoods, northern and southern, Christian and Muslim, rich and poor. An analysis of the complete data set would be reported back to the communities and used by the youth and youth-led organizations to develop and implement social, cultural and economic activities for urban youth.
Months after the mapping was over, the young leaders I spoke with talked about how different their lives were after participating in CYM training and implementation. They were viewed by adults as leaders in their communities; they were invited to help make decisions in their neighborhoods; they made friends with young Chadians across religious, gender, linguistic and geographic lines; they had gained practical skills for future employment (surveying, interviewing, data analysis, communication); they better understood the challenges young people face; they contributed to resolving youth issues; and they grew personally, developing in the areas of responsibility, patience and conflict resolution.
The CYM process galvanizes youth engagement in their communities, creating positive youth social networks. Moreover, it provides youth with the tools to do something good: to identify gaps and implement initiatives to improve opportunities for youth. In Chad, the CYM process also narrowed the divide between youth from different neighborhoods and communities, ethnic groups, religions, language groups and genders by bringing them together around common goals through an open, participatory process.
My hope is that USAID will promote and invest in activities like CYM that empower and mobilize youth to seek and create positive solutions for their own lives and their communities.
Read more about how Community YouthMapping helps youth build a better future. For more information about the methodology, please contact amecagni[at]fhi360.org.