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Keeping young people at the center of the development agenda

In the wake of the presidential election, we’ve heard from students, many of whom seem fearful and uncertain about the future for themselves and their families. The youth we work with experience the normal challenges associated with being teens, as well as many unique challenges specific to their communities and families.

We would like to take this opportunity to remind our staff, colleagues, and partners about what matters most to us—the youth and communities we serve. It is easy to get caught up in local, state, and national politics, especially at a time when our country seems so challenged in trying to overcome our differences and find common ground. However, one needs only to look to the youth in our communities to find hope and a positive outlook on the future.

The youth who serve as peer educators in our new RE:MIX Sexual Health Education  Program have overcome tremendous challenges as young parents and continue to face new challenges every day. And yet, they have worked tirelessly to provide for their children, to finish their education, to look for new career opportunities, and to continue growing as adults and leaders in their communities.

Many of the youth that we have served in local schools and throughout our community have also shown us what it means to come face to face with challenges and continue to work hard for a better life. We’ve seen youth locate resources in our community for themselves when their own families have let them down. We’ve seen young people push themselves to be involved as leaders in our community while balancing these demands with their roles as students, friends, workers, and family members. The youth we’ve worked with stand up against bullying, unfairness, and exclusion every day in their schools. They participate in gay-straight alliances, they tutor, mentor, and teach each other, and they share their voices and perspectives on important issues in their schools.

Adolescence is arguably one of the most challenging periods of growth and development for young people, and we have had a front row seat to the amazing things they have accomplished in our own communities, despite the challenges they face. This is why, at EngenderHealth’s U.S. Programs Office, we believe wholeheartedly in the values we’ve set forth for our work:

  • Self-determination: We believe in providing opportunities for youth to take ownership over their own sexuality and sexual and reproductive health, because all youth have a right to self-determination.
  • Quality: We deliver high-quality, factual, age-appropriate, and research-driven programs, services, and information, because youth deserve quality work from the adults who serve them.
  • Innovation: We challenge the status quo with innovative approaches and solutions, because young people teach us new things every day and require us to be innovative.
  • Respect: We give respect to every person every time we interact with them, because young people have shown us how important it is to be inclusive and open-minded.

As staff at youth-serving agencies and professionals, we must continue placing youth and the communities we serve front and center. Youth need adults who can be present, focused, and positive role models in their lives. It doesn’t mean ignoring the real concerns that we have for our country, our field, or the work we do. It means being cognizant that the youth we serve are seeing our example, watching how we handle conflict and challenge, and looking to us to be the kind of leaders we ask them to be every day. We must show youth that no problem or challenge is insurmountable.

In our RE:MIX program, we teach young people to maximize their strengths, imagine a healthy future, and explore their identities, because we believe that young people who put their energy into these areas can succeed even while facing many challenges. We as adults can find a way to maximize the strengths of our communities and our nation, imagine a healthy and prosperous future, and continue to explore our identity as a nation that is growing, changing, and developing in much the same way that the youth we serve are. We at EngenderHealth believe that putting our energy into these areas and the youth we serve will ultimately move us all forward.