Conversations with SARSYC Convener

Conversations with SARSYC Convener
Jimmy Wilford

1. What inspired the conceptualisation of Southern African Regional Students and Youth Conference?

Generally, there has been an absence of a sustainable coordinated response to SRHR issues for young people in Southern Africa. This is even more profound for students in institutions of higher learning. Southern Africa is a region that has one of the highest prevalence rates in terms of HIV and other SRH challenges but lack the much needed cordinated response to these challenges. There have been quite a lot of young people from Southern Africa doing fantastic work, however lacks coordination. The representation and feedback mechanisms amongst young people in Southern Africa is not coordinated and this platform, now in its 5th year, is working towards cooridnating these young people. We believe in making SARSYC a strategic forum for young people to share experiences and notes from the various platforms and engagements take part in, locally, regionally and internationally. This has not been happening in the previous years and this conference is designed to fill in these gaps and re-ignite the zeal of young people towards collective advocacy to address their SRH challenges. Thus, the thinking behind SARSYC is to come up with a platform where voices of young people are consolidated and engineer a solution focussed movement, driven by young people for advocacy to address varying SRH challenges faced by young people in the region.

2. From your perspective as conference convener, how has been the experience of putting together this conference given that it is the first of its kind in Southern Africa.

Well, it has been a great experience. Just convincing partners and stakeholders that this is what we want to do for the young people is not easy. Given the structure of the conference where young people have to apply and show commitment by paying registration fees, its challenging on its own especially considering the macro-economic environments in most Southern African countries. As the SARSYC Convener, I feel the challenge even though am liking it. The major experience is the realisation that young people are very innovative. While I am the conference convener, I must say, I am not doing it alone, I have a strong team of dedicated young women and men doing much of the work. Equally important is the lesson on the neccessity for collaborations. Working in the region requires lots of collaborations with institutions in the hosting country. The 2019 Conference being the 3rd, I am using the experience gained from the 1st which was held in Zimbabwe and the 2nd which was held in South Africa. Each conference brought its own set of challenges and experiences. The other experience has been dealing with development partners. They (development partners) in the region have differing interests and focus areas with regards to sexual and reproductive health; as such there is need to strike a balance. An ommission of one particular SRHR issue or a (prefered) young person of interest can cause unintendendant consequences. My major challenge above all has been to make decisions on stakeholders who take their time to express interest to be part of the program. After noticing the presence of others, they would come demand to be included with no fail. This is very challenging and its an experience and half on its own. But at the end of the day, with many partners involved, many experts from different backgrounds, and many young people with passion and expertise involved, we take pride in that SARSYC is a platform where diverse SRH issues are discussed and given the deserving attention to improve the SRHR landscape in the region.

3. What noteworthy achievements do you think SARSYC has made since its inception?

Firstly to note is that SARSYC is slowly becoming that platform which is able to coordinate the voices of students in institutions of higher learning from Southern Africa. Bringing more than 300 students and youth from 8 countries together is quite an achievement. Many networks were created and collaborations done after the previous two edditions. SAYWHAT being the leading coordinator of the platform was selected to be part of the African Union Youth Advisory Board for 2 consecutive years. Being part of this Youth Board has enabled that resolutions from the conference are shared widely. Furthermore, SAYWHAT has been included in the committee coordinating the ICASA Youth Front representing the voices from Southern Africa. This year SAYWHAT will lead and coordinate the 2019 ICASA Youth Caravan which is a road trip from Zimbabwe to Rwanda with young people from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania and Burundi.
This year SARSYC will be the first platform where the recently signed SADC SRHR strategy will be introduced to students and youth in Southern Africa. This year’s edition will be bigger and better in that we will have officials from Ministries of Health and Education from participating countries and Members of parliament from represented countries as well. These policy makers themselves will also interact and learn from each other on SRHR advocacy. While it might be too early to talk of achievements in the region and attribute to the platform, its however imperative that being able to host the 3rd conference is a great achievement on its own.

4. What challenges have you noted?

Well challenges are part of the development work, more so coodinating young people from diverse backgrounds who were introduced to development work through various ways. Such young people come with different expectations – My major challege is the entitlement spirit by some young people. Some young people feel that they own the spaces for young people to the extent that they don’t even express an interest to participate but they expect to be invited and have everything done for them. This sense of entitlement is retrogressive especially in the drive to bring young people together and harmonise ideas to have a strong coordinated voice of young people in the region. Our vision is to have youth who accommodate each other and tolerant to diverse opinions from other youths of different backgrounds. But sometimes that is not achieved so easily; those young people who have been in the health advocacy for a considerably longer time find hard to accept other new voices. But I am happy we take SARSYC as an opportunity to mould for the better characters of young people and orient them to work together for their good.
Another challenge is on funding; there is general fatigue on coalitions and regional platforms especially for young people. Funding partners took long to realise the capacity and value addition of the coordinated voice of students in tertiary institutions.
The last challenge I can share now is that institutions of higher learning in the region have taken long to realize the need to prioritize sexual and reproductive health for their students. This is evidenced by their unwillingness provide financial support to their students to attend some of the forums and also college based interventions. A lot of work needs to be done at country level for them to appreciate the importance of such platforms and for them to allocate time and resources dedicated to SRHR issues at college level.

5. What opportunities have you noted?

There is a great opportunity to come up with coordinated voices of intelectuals from the Universities in the region and strengthen the advocacy for SRHR at multiple levels of the region. The students involved are from various faculties with the pontential of taking their SRHR skills into their careers of choice. Since inception, I have interacted with young people who have been studying Law, Economics, Environment, Accounting etc..some have since graduated. I see a mult-sectorial response to the SRHR challenges by these students while they are employed or employers somewhere. More importantly, I see this platform as a real opportunity for young people empowerement and involvement in addressing concerns to do with their SRHR.

6. What do you envision for the upcoming edition of the conference?

I envision more cohesion and believe amongst students in the SADC region that they can indeed conquer SRHR challenges. I foresee the young people, in particular students in the region believing in their capacity to influence the region positively beyond some incentives.

7. How do you view the role or contribution of SARSYC with regards to the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people in the region?

The SARSYC contribution is unque and key. Its unique in the sense that we are mobilising the voices of young professionals who will go and work in the various spheres of the regional economy. Some are going to be HR managers, Economist, Lawyers and possibly politicians. This then means we are creating a pool of advocates who will intern make SRHR policies at their own work places. The young people generally like comparing experiences, giving them a platform to network at regional levels create a pontential of getting the best out of them.

8. Lastly, what is your key message to some of the stakeholders in this conference?

Partners: We need your support. We need sustainable funding for SRH interventions and it is my plea to the donor community that the time to upscale funding for SRH is now, lest we lose the gains we have made so far as a region. 

To the Governments: Government support in this conference and indeed other SRH programs is strongly needed. We advocate for governments to commit resources to address SRH challenges faced by students, including addressing root causes inherent in each context. SARSYC must not be a platform supported by the donor community alone. Governments must come on board
Young People: This is your time to shine, to influence and make a difference. Welcome on board!
Other Civil Society Organisations: This is not the time for competition. The interests of young people must take precedence over individual organisation’s pursuits. Let us support each other, come together for collective advocacy and work together for the good of the region

See you at SARSYC!

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