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Ever wondered what it’s like to prepare for a YCI project? Then Ellie’s blog, My Life in Mombasa, is a must-read. In addition to fundraising tips, Ellie also shares advice that she’s received from Kenya alumni and YCI staff, including key tip from Tanja Zivanovic (Kenya 2007 & Ethiopia CIDA intern 2008): “One thing I can recommend is not to have any specific expectations.”

Ellie will be headed to Kenya for 10 weeks in May.

“Man, it is not easy preparing for a trip like this. The staff at Youth Challenge International has been so supportive throughout this process. While it was very difficult to find an international program that really appealed to me, my experience with the CIDA sponsored organization has been absolutely amazing. . . If you have just been selected to work with YCI, I am sure you will have a great time as well. Last month was quite busy for me. On top of the various exams, papers and club activities that I need to complete, I had to squeeze in some time to get all of my vaccinations and pre-trip preparations finished. . .

With their project at the midway point, now is a great time to feature this blog from Mike, who is a member of YCI’s Youth Ambassadors team that is currently in Kenya. Mike’s group has one more month left in Mombasa.

“Money can be transferred via cell phones but there is rarely a night without power outages. It seems that everywhere, the traditional and the modern are forever thrusting themselves into my visage, relentlessly making me marvel at the pace of progress and the unyielding nature of the past. . .

Sitting in the shade looking out to the ocean and drinking Italian coffee makes any work-related complaints seem insignificant. Such is the benefit of having programs in Zanzibar, Tanzania and a definite perk of my role as International Programs Director. Although few will believe it–especially in the YCI office–my time in Zanzibar has been full, with meetings and program visits. And, as the second last stop on a three-week, four-country tour that has already included Ghana, Uganda and Kenya, I’m starting to feel the effects of hotels, airports and taxis. Seven flights so far–all on time and with my bag–with three to go.

I’ve had the chance to see groups of volunteers in action in each of our African countries; speak with both our existing partners and form a new partnership in Kampala, Uganda; meet with stakeholders and the youth we work alongside in each country I’ve visited; speak on a Mombasa radio show and; watch as a group of YCI volunteers presented the outcomes of their programming at the Canadian High Commission in Accra, Ghana. Today, I watched as YCI volunteers taught beginner and intermediate computer classes to local youth, some of whom were using computers for the first time.

It’s been an eventful trip and the chance to speak with YCI staff, partners and youth in East and West Africa is incredibly helpful when it comes to program and project design and oversight from Toronto–it’s too easy to forget the realities and challenges of working in the field from the comfort of the Toronto office. And for me personally, the chance to visit programs and be in the field is was what drew me to relief/development work in the first place.

I’ve been especially impressed with the creativity of YCI and partner staff and their ability to design relevant youth programs and integrate YCI volunteers and local youth in ways that provide a tangible impact at the community level. I’ve also been impressed by our volunteers and their willingness to learn from local youth; share their own skills and experiences; work and support each other as a team; help with programming and work; and learn in environments that are new and occasionally out of their comfort zone.

I’m not a big fan of “Africa” references, as the differences–even at the local level–are huge and comparisons across the continent are so general they’re often meaningless. I’ve been living and visiting different parts of this continent for almost five years now and apart from the constant learning there’s few real similarities across the countries I’ve lived and visited. Wireless connections, BlackBerry coverage and watching the Olympics on TV shows just how far technological advances have outpaced the solutions to economic, health and other social issues.

The young people I’ve spoken to also have concerns that cut across national and regional boundaries; concerns about finding jobs to support their families, a desire to further their education, disappointment at many of their leaders, concerns about their health and what their future will look like to name a few. Young people we work with also continue to find creative solutions to the challenges they face, work multiple jobs to provide for their families, work closely with YCI volunteers to share their own community knowledge and volunteer their time with YCI and our partners. And, at a very grassroots level, YCI and our volunteers are working to address a number of issues alongside youth and the partners we support. A small piece of a much larger puzzle.

That, and the view from the coffee shop in Zanzibar, makes the travel more than worthwhile.

-Steve Cumming, International Programs Director

This past week, Lauren and I had the pleasure of attending Queen’s International Development Week activities. Our presentation focused on “edutainment” campaigns that convey health-related messages, including within a YCI programming context.

For YCI, edutainment takes on a range of different forms to convey messages. In Ghana, we’ve used media campaigns, such as radio jingles, to encourage youth to vote and participant in local governance.  In Kenya and Tanzania, YCI volunteers and partners have used methods of music, dance, drama and talent shows to focus on issues of sexual reproductive health, HIV/AIDS and substance abuse.

Sarah, YCI's former Administrative Assistant and current Queen's student, puts up posters for the presentation

Working with the Queen’s  workshop participants, we identified some of the strengths and weaknesses of edutainment as a programming methodology. We also worked with them to develop their own health-related edutainment campaigns.

Lauren working on the presentation

Even though edutainment is method commonly used to convey messages of health sexuality and health and hygiene, many workshop participants were surprised to realize just how common edutainment campaigns are.

Still confused by what “edutainment” is exactly? Check out some of our favourite YouTube videos to get a better idea of what edutainment looks like in a northern context:

Strength: Edutainment has the ability to modify key messages for different audiences.

Weakness: It may not hit its target audience.

Strength: It’s entertaining and appealing to a youth demographic.

Weakness: Its message is fleeting and could become lost in a media-saturated environment.

Strength: This video is just hilarious.

Weakness: Okay, so this last one isn’t really and edutainment campaign, but it does identify a key weakness of real campaigns: they can over-simplifying messages or make them too complex.

Thank you to Queen’s University for hosting us and I hope everyone had a healthful International Development Week!

-Jessica Lockhart, Program Coordinator

In Mombasa, the combination of tourism, East Africa’s busiest port and a lack of economic opportunities has led some young people to seek alternative sources of income—including participation in the sex trade industry. “Mombasa is a tourist town and a lot of young people are jobless,” says Kasena Evans, Program Coordinator for Kwacha Afrika. “Their families are living below the poverty line so the only thing they can do is to use sex as an income generating activity.” This engagement in sex work leaves young men and women vulnerable to gender-based violence, unplanned pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.

Kwacha Afrika, which is Kiswahili for “Arise Africa,” tackles the oppressive realities of poverty through the use of theatre for development. “The [Kwacha volunteers] are really committed to their interests and devoted to Kwacha and the community,” says Amanda Birch-Bayley, Kenya 2009 Alumna. YCI volunteers and program staff have been working alongside Kwacha to increase awareness of HIV/AIDS amongst youth, promote condom use, and help youth develop an understanding of their sexual and human rights.

In October, YCI mobilized our second Youth Innovators program. (The Youth Innovators program, previously called the Youth Ambassadors program, was first piloted in March 2009 in Ghana.) We recruited, interviewed and selected 10 individuals that embodied YCI’s values of volunteerism and innovation, and who had backgrounds in HIV/AIDS education. Want to know a bit more about our Youth Innovators?

Group 1: October 2009-November 2009

Dan attended Queen’s for Biology and Health and Physical Education, and also possesses a Bachelor of Education. He has previously participated in health promotion placements in Samoa and St. Vincent. For the past two years, he’s been working on a health promotion and advocacy program to prevent tobacco use amongst teenagers.

With an undergraduate degree in Kinesiology and Physical Education, as well as a graduate degree in Health Studies, Lisa’s knowledge will be invaluable on the Youth Innovators project. She also has experience as a peer health promoter, and is currently working on a student peer leadership initiative to prevent substance abuse among grade seven and eight students.

April was born and raised in Toronto, but moved to Australia to complete her Masters in Health Science, with a specialization in health promotion. She resides outside of Melbourne, where she works as a community planner for a local city council.

Travelling to Kenya with YCI was James’ first international volunteering experience. But he’s no stranger to working with youth. James has worked and volunteered with Street Kids International, Oxfam Canada and the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation. He has also completed a post-graduate degree in Fundraising and Volunteer Management.

Group 2: November 2009-December 2009

Tsion was born and raised in Ethiopia, but now resides in Toronto, where she graduated from York University’s Social Work program. She has experience as an HIV/AIDS peer health educator with the Ethiopian Association of Toronto.

Brandon first got involved in YCI in 2008, when he participated in an Ethiopia project. Following his placement with YCI in Ethiopia, he traveled to South Sudan and Malawi, where he volunteered and worked with other non-profit organizations. He currently resides in Saskatchewan.

Another alumna of YCI’s programs, Candice traveled to Vanuatu in 2006. After graduating from a Master’s of Health Promotion program in Halifax, she moved to Yellowknife, where she works as an HPV Study Coordinator. Following her placement in Kenya, Candice intends to begin her doctoral studies, specializing in youth sexual health in the circumpolar region.

Sonja has a background in journalism, has conducted community research In Havana and believes in using experiential education (including the use of puppetry). Prior to her placement with YCI, she was studying in South Africa. Along with Candice, Sonja was a participant on the Ship for World Youth.

Katherine is originally from Vancouver, but currently resides in Toronto. She completed her Master’s in Sociology, with a focus on gender, family and women’s health, at the University of Toronto. She currently works in health research.

Yet another alumna, Corinne volunteered with YCI in Grenada in 2007, where she facilitated workshops for adolescent mothers, with a focus on women’s right, sexuality, health and self-worth. She works as a registered nurse in Toronto in a trauma intensive care unit.

By combining their unique experiences and skills in youth programming and HIV/AIDS education, the Kenya Youth Innovators teams are working together with local youth, YCI volunteers and peer educators from Kwacha to organize school and community outreaches, talent shows and “Club Nights” in Mombasa’s club district, all with a focus on HIV/AIDS awareness and testing. These events utilize the skills and knowledge of locally trained peer educators and targeted young sex workers.

Next up? The Youth Innovators program will return in January to Ghana.

This is my third month with YCI as the new International Programs Director and my first blog. After living away from Canada for the past four years and skipping the last four winters, its been great to be back in Toronto. The transition has been relatively seamless and I’ve really enjoyed being back.

Prior to working with YCI I spent time in Chad, Sierra Leone, Angola, South Sudan, Sri Lanka and Palestine, as well as York, England for a graduate degree in Post-war Reconstruction.   I’ve been managing diverse programs in the field from health and education to de-mining, which has provided a great foundation in programming and management and will hopefully mean I’ll be well-placed to take on this new challenge here at YCI.

The past two months have been a steep learning curve. Leaning about YCI programs in East and West Africa as well as Central and South America, meeting staff and volunteers, participating in a strategic overview and budget design for the coming financial year have meant a busy and thorough induction. YCI has a long tradition of volunteer engagement, strong partner support and youth focused programming and the coming year will see a renewed commitment in how YCI views programming and how we can ensure maximum impact within the communities we work.

The IPD position includes oversight of staff in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda for our CIDA funded program as well as collaboration with out Alliance partners in South and Central America and the Group Leaders who facilitate volunteer groups. There is also a focus on financial management, reporting to donors and working on the quality and expansion of YCIs programs.

Next month I head back to the ‘Continent’ for a five-week trip to Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana and Uganda.  An opportunity to see our programs up-close, meet our local partners and volunteers and assess the possibility of expanding YCI programs into Uganda. This will be the first time I’ve traveled as a visitor compared to being a field staff and have a lot to condense into a short time.

Ghana and Tanzania are new countries for me so I look forward, as always, to seeing a new place. I traveled briefly in Uganda and spent a lot of time in Kenya traveling back and forth from South Sudan and this will be my first time back after a long hiatus, and with four countries in five weeks, I’ll have lots of time in airports, on the road and back in the field. I can’t wait.

- Steve Cumming, International Programs Director

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