My Agenda in Zimbabwe’s Youth Agenda
He is 32 years of age, 6 feet in height, chocolate complexioned and a native of Zimbabwe. His name is Francis Rwodzi. Growing up in Zimbabwe, he was subjected back then to the same negative stereotypes that prevail in the community that he works in today. These stereotypes often categorizes youth as up to no good and inherently lazy. His youthfulness and inexperiences often meant that his opinion was discounted and deemed irrelevant in important public matters. Neither he nor his colleagues were ever consulted on serious issues, even when they had something to say.
However, he was lucky to have been provided with support and guidance from his family who instilled a hard work ethic and a belief in him. With this guidance, he was able to navigate his way through the difficult phases of growing up and he succeeded in graduating as a Journalist and eventually working with the media sector for a period of 5 years. He deemed this as the most opportune space for him at that time to champion for youth issues not by participating in riots but through “my pen and paper,” as he rightly puts it. This period identified, nurtured and polished his skills as a youth champion and activist. In the year 2009, he formally joined Youth Agenda Trust, a partner to ActionAid and begun his journey to make actual change and where today, he works alongside the youth. However, the youth that he works with are seldom provided the opportunities he was afforded; poverty, illiteracy and low education outcomes often preclude the potential of the youth being realized.
Working closely with the youth has compelled him to take a closer look at today’s youth issues, and he has found that the challenges largely remain the same: lack of participation in decision making processes serves to reinforce their exclusion.
My interaction with the youth has also served to challenge some of his own prejudices that he subconsciously harbored: he has overtime come to understand and appreciate that the youth are engaged and have important contributions to make to policy agenda of this country. And if well guided, it can be coordinated and connected with bigger national efforts to effect real change for the youth of Zimbabwe. I have begun to understand that the negative discourse has been used on youth, has been to justify their exclusion from important engagements.
But this will require a supportive environment that truly believes in the capability of youth, provides mentoring as well as education and skill development, so that they can meaningfully contribute to the development process. Without these critical skills, the Government will continue to justify their exclusion based upon their so-called ignorance.
Youth Agenda has provided opportunities for young men and women to step up and work collaboratively in the planning and implementation of its programs as partners rather than beneficiaries. But also, it has guided the youth in developing their own plans that going forward have enabled them to be aware, to participate, to influence and to take their rightful spaces in governance and elective leadership processes. In their plans they have committed to empowering other youth, as well as developing their leadership and advocacy skills. This strategy came out of their realization of the participating youth, of the need to work jointly for the youth agenda to get on top of the ward, district and national agendas.
Through ActionAid support, Youth Agenda has been able to reach out to well over 2700 young men and women who are now informed and aware of their rights and responsibilities not only as youth but as citizens. The young men and women are now able to get involved in governance and influence leadership matters through joining elective leadership and monitoring of government programs & public resources. The same support has also skilled them with information, practice & mentorship to initiate and manage small & medium enterprises (SMEs). This has led to improved and dignified livelihoods as a result of improved household incomes. This has been achieved through YAT’s social entrepreneurship program.
“Supporting the development of the young men and women is key to the broader sustainable development of Zimbabwe. Today i am motivated and committed to providing the guidance and support they need to guarantee that their voices are finally heard”, says Francis.