Since 2010 the Young Health Programme has reached over 3 million people, through a mix of programmes and media from school lessons, summer camps and online learning, to dance, street theatre and sports events. These have ranged over 24 countries from Australia to Zambia and six continents, and from one-to-one mentoring in Sweden to long-running programmes involving hundreds of thousands of young people in Brazil and India. The methods may vary, but the drive is always the same – to help young people to lead longer, happier and healthier lives.
Many of these people live in unstable and difficult environments, often in the slums and informal settlements that surround the fast-developing cities of the Global South, such as Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya – but also those left behind in some of the world’s richest countries such as the Strassekinde or street kids in Hamburg, Germany. For them education opportunities may be rare and public health messages struggle to get through, and so the YHP has been working to find ways to communicate effectively.
The main route has been developing and equipping Peer-Educators. Some are the natural leaders, the ones that may have been the first with a cigarette or a drink in their peer groups, as one peer-educator from Brazil put it “my friends used to smoke constantly”. In other situations it may be those lacking in confidence who grow to become accomplished communicators and take the opportunity to transform their lives and help others. As Shabana in Delhi puts it “I want to join the police and earn a better livelihood for my family. During my free time, I want to teach poor children so that they can pursue their studies and dreams like I am doing.”
Over the last nine years we have trained and worked with over 50,000 of these young people and shared their achievements, whether at the very local level or inviting them to speak at One Young World or even the World Health Assembly.
In all of our YHP communities there are other leaders too, and these vary considerably. In some places traditional structures predominate and extended families are very important, elsewhere teachers or other adults may be some of the most positive role models – so we reach out to them too. In fact since 2010 we have worked with more than quarter of a million of these key influencers.
We also recognise that helping young people to inform themselves about their health and how to adopt healthy lifestyles is not enough. Personal health advice and support can be hard for young people to access, and embarrassing and difficult to use, especially for girls and young women in some cultures. Our programmes to date have directed awareness and education to almost 20,000 health workers in the area of adolescent health and how to provide more youth-friendly services.
Even this is not enough as we need to achieve systemic change if youth health is to be transformed - and this requires advocacy. Each year we select some of the most stimulating and inspirational individuals to attend the One Young World Summit as YHP scholars, to build their networks and their skills. We now have over fifty YHP scholars who have gone on to do amazing work in their own countries, in international organisations and even pressing for change at the global level, multiplying the effectiveness of our work.
Some of these scholars, and many others, have applied for grants from the Step Up! programme. Each year about $150,000 is awarded to innovators, educators and social entrepreneurs around the world, reaching new audiences with new methods and messages.
The YHP journey to date has been inspiring and we look forward to making even more of an impact on the lives of young people in the future.