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WE ARE FRESH – ARE YOU?

These seed grants were funded by Johnson & Johnson and WomanCare Global via the Women Deliver C Exchange Youth Initiative.

By: Nargis Shirazi, FRESH Campaign (Uganda)

Enabling young people is one of the best ways to help a nation flourish. In my country of Uganda, youth make up nearly 80 percent of the population – an enormous wealth of untapped potential. However, poor economic and educational opportunities plague Uganda’s youth, and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) has suffered unjustly.

Sex is not openly talked about in Uganda. Ugandans suffer from alarming HIV/AIDS and teenage pregnancy rates, yet we deprioritize SRH and inhibit access to the youth friendly services that millions across this country desperately need. Often times, the services youth can access are counterproductive to the issues at hand – what good is preaching abstinence to someone already engaged in sex? We need to be promoting proven solutions to help Uganda’s youth live healthier, more productive lives.

I dream of a Uganda where young people are educated about their bodies, about safe sex, and about engaging in healthy relationships. I dream of a Uganda where teenage girls learn about their bodies, and where boys are taught about the part they play in sexual reproductive health. I dream of a Uganda where this type of education is prioritized on both a local and national level, and of a Uganda where government officials are held accountable partly based on how they perform in this area. Lastly, I believe in a Uganda that defines health as not only the absence of disease, but presence of social and economic well-being as well.

I’m proud to be the founder of the FRESH campaign, which has started to fill the gaps in SRH education and services across Uganda. The campaign began as a “one-woman show,” but today, there are nearly 500 youth on Facebook and more than 250 youth on Twitter who come together online – and even in person – to discuss SRH issues with their peers.

The impact of the FRESH campaign has been eye-opening. Each meeting attracts a new group of young people with innovative ideas and plans to lead their own FRESH clubs. Recently, the founder of Ludigo Creations, a local art organization that promotes social change, hosted its own FRESH meetings to discuss sexual reproductive health topics with its team of young artists. It’s examples like these that show me that my dream is being fulfilled: youth educated about SRH, inspired by each other and empowered to take action.

When we empower young people with education, we enable them to lead. Youth led efforts are particularly important because young people relate best to peers in their own age group. Thanks to Women Deliver’s C-Exchange Program, FRESH is now helping to cultivate the next generation of leaders, and we are expanding the campaign through additional youth-led projects. We invite you to join us by writing to suripsyc@gmail.com, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter (@freshcampaign).
 

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