The World Is Getting Younger: Aid Groups Rush to Meet Urgent Needs

By Megan Rabbitt, Communications Manager, USGLC

Jordan CEP basketball tournament

A staggering 25 percent of the global population is now between the ages of 10 and 24. And while meeting the needs of an outsized youth population would be a challenge for any country, the majority of the world’s young people are concentrated in resource-strapped nations. As this so-called “youth bulge” continues to grow, developing countries will need the support of developed nations and private organizations to ensure every young person has the chance to become a self-sufficient adult.

International non-profit Global Communities is working alongside the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to make sure today’s youth have the foundation they need to lead healthy, happy lives. Here are just a few examples of how:

Giving Youth a Voice in Local Government

Palestine, Honduras and Ukraine may be worlds apart, but all three countries are home to swelling youth populations with high levels of disillusionment in government. Recognizing both the challenges – and potential dangers – of a disaffected youth and the benefits of an engaged citizenry, Global Communities teamed up with USAID to foster civic participation among young people.

Through the creation of Youth Local Councils – designed to mirror local government institutions – young people between the ages of 15 and 20 gather to elect representatives from among their peers. The elected representatives are then tasked with advocating for young people before local government. By participating in these councils, young people not only learn how their government functions, they have a chance to make their voices heard. And for some participants, like those in Palestine, the councils may provide their only exposure to democratic electoral processes.

First created in the West Bank in 2008 with 700 young people, about 20,000 young Palestinians are involved in these councils today across 20 different communities. And Global Communities has recently brought the youth council model to Honduras and Ukraine.

Empowering Teens to Become the First AIDS-Free Generation

Just 15 years ago, nearly 30 million people were living with HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa alone and only 50,000 were receiving treatment. Fast forward to today, and more than 14 million men, women, and children are on life-saving antiretroviral drugs. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief – or PEPFAR – has played a major role in helping to bring what was once a global pandemic to the brink of epidemic control, without a vaccine or a cure.

But we cannot afford to ease up at this stage in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Vulnerable populations remain at high risk of contracting HIV, particularly adolescent girls. In fact, about 1,000 teenage girls and young women contract HIV every day. Global Communities plans to change that.

In partnership with PEPFAR, Global Communities established a program in Kenya known as Healthy Outcomes through Prevention Education, or HOPE. Through the program, adolescent girls and boys learned how to effectively prevent HIV and STI transmissions as well as how to differentiate between myths and facts regarding HIV/AIDS. With an enhanced understanding also came increased acceptance of those living with the disease, an important step in the effort to reduce stigma. And because the program was carried out through schools, local educators will be able to pass on their newfound knowledge to future students – giving us reason to hope that more young girls will be able to grow up free from the fear of HIV.

Building a Better Future for Kids in Refugee Communities

As Syria’s brutal civil war stretches into its eighth year, neighboring countries and communities have struggled to accommodate the millions of Syrians who have fled their homes. The Jordanian border town of Sabha wa Dafianeh is no exception. Since war erupted in Syria, the town’s population has grown by 60 percent – and more than half of the 12,000 residents are Syrian refugees. Already a poor community, with more than half of the population also under the age of 19 – the influx of refugees has significantly strained the local economy and has made it even harder for young people to find jobs.

Together, Global Communities and USAID are working to support communities like Sabha wa Dafianeh through a five-year-long Community Engagement Project. By coordinating with local governments, municipalities, and community organizations the project has been able to address key needs – from improving local schools and the women’s health center, to making sure public services like trash collection keep pace with demand.

The project has also supported growing youth populations through sport and recreational activities. In Sabha wa Dafianeh the project organized a basketball tournament for local Jordanian and Syrian girls as a way to simultaneously promote friendship between girls of different nationalities and challenge gender stereotypes.