On October 5, 2015 we had the opportunity of a visit from CAMY Fund Program Officer, Emily Barcklow, and Fellow, Gloria Díaz Jaso. They accompanied us to San José la Colonia, a neighborhood 10 minutes outside of Cobán, Alta Verapaz to observe a workshop provided by Byron de la Cruz, a youth leader with ALAS. Byron began collaborating with ALAS as an “Empowered Youth” in our current project with the CAMY Fund because of his conviction to educate his peers about adolescent pregnancy.
When we reached the place for the workshop we waited for the young people, who Byron had convened, to arrive. There were 11 of them in all. In order to provide the workshop Byron had requested a space at the house of a poor but sympathetic family who kindly loaned us their front yard. The topic for the workshop was, “Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, Reproductive Risk and Family Planning.” The young people that arrived were an active and participatory group who sought answers to the questions they had.
After the workshop we went back to the ALAS offices and Emily, Gloria and I talked about various points of improvement in the presentation and about our future plans for the current project. Something that we observed was the diversity of young people in the area since the youth that attended the workshop were totally different from the young girls from Tanchi that the CAMY Fund visited at the beginning of March. Those girls were very shy and had a hard time expressing themselves. We reached the conclusion that living closer to the municipal seat (Cobán) means that there is more opportunity for information and communication, which means that young people are more engaged. It is important to have the same access to services at the rural community level as at the semi-urban level to improve development opportunities, not only for young people but for the entire population.
We also talked about the other activities that we have carried out in the project in the last several months. For example, in the months of August and September we organized advocacy activities in the municipalities where ALAS works. These activities were held on International Youth Day and International Day for the Prevention of Unplanned Adolescent Pregnancy (also called World Contraception Day).
In August, ALAS co-organized a state adolescent and youth meeting called “Advocating for My Rights” in collaboration with Plan International, the Network of Youth Organizations in Alta Verapaz (ROJAV), the Cobán Youth Group, Paz Joven and the Institute for Social Cooperation (ICOS). Young people from all of these institutions came, including some of the “Empowered Youth” leaders from ALAS. The event was carried out over two days and included a World Café, sporting contests, artistic activities and a forum with local authorities and legislative candidates.
Of the two forums mentioned, the first was with representatives from the Ministry of Health and the Municipal Youth Office and the second with four legislative candidates since elections were coming up. All of the young people were very engaged and actively participated in asking questions like: What actions have you carried out to prevent adolescent pregnancy? If you reach congress, what actions will you carry out in favor of young people? Young people really took advantage of the space to engage in advocacy with local authorities and future legislators.
Likewise, in September we organized several roundtables though the only one that was successfully carried out was in the municipality San Cristóbal Verapaz, since in the other two municipalities: Santa Cruz and Chisec, the authorities that were invited never showed up. It was very discouraging for the young people and teachers present at those activities to see the lack of interest by local authorities
Some of ALAS’s Empowered Youth leaders expressed disappointment that the authorities really weren’t interested in young people and didn’t want to invest in them. From this experience we realized that it is very important to continue informing and raising awareness about young people’s rights and the laws that are available to them. We agreed that next year we will continue to carry out advocacy so that the authorities see that young people are active in demanding their rights.