Youth Changing Their Communities
In recognition of International Youth Day, we are highlighting young people dedicated to making positive changes in their communities. From Syria to Nicaragua, these young people demonstrate their commitment to helping others, giving voice to the voiceless and making their communities a better place to live.
Serving No’aimeh, My New Home:
Syrian Refugee Committed to Improving Her New Community
Durieh Neqdeli is only 25 years old, but she has already experienced a lot. Five years ago her family made the difficult decision to leave their home in Syria and move the family to the safety of Jordan.
With her parents and four siblings, the Neqdelis found refuge in No’aimeh, a small community in Irbid City. They arrived with nothing, but full of hope for a fresh start.
In No’aimeh, like many Jordanian communities close to the Syrian border, the sudden influx of Syrian refugees has put significant pressure on already strained public services. “We were the fiftieth family to arrive into a small community,” recalls Durieh. “At first, we were not fully accepted, which is understandable. But those who accepted us treated us like family and more,” continued Durieh, still emotional about the generosity of the community members.
Durieh says it is this generosity that motivated her to find a way to give back to the community. Whenever possible, she participated in community activities and volunteered for different projects. Through her volunteering she learned about the No’aimeh Community Enhancement Team (CET). CETs are voluntary bodies composed of male, female and youth representatives who are nominated by the community help identify, design and implement projects that address community-identified stressors. CETs were developed under the USAID Community Engagement Project, which builds the capacity of residents, municipalities and local organizations to identify and alleviate problems affecting the population in order to leave behind stronger, more cohesive and resilient communities.
For a year, Durieh faithfully participated in all of the CET’s activities. “I was impressed by the CET’s approach, and how activities are built on community needs and strengthened by community engagement. The CET’s activities are so different from other projects I worked on. They achieve results and help improve an area on many different levels. I am proud to say that I was a part of an effort that helped rehabilitate our Youth Club which is now able to serve us better, and that our streets are lit more brightly because of the CET’s and municipality’s efforts. There are many other achievements,” Durieh added passionately.
When it came time to nominate new CET members, Durieh was pleased and surprised to be elected to the CET as its first Syrian member. “I want to use my energy to build my new community, No’aimeh. I want to support future projects, especially for youth, and serve as a platform for youth to express their needs and share their talents,” she said.
Leading By Example:
Village Head Inspires Youth with Can-do Attitude
Although only 27, Vasyl Palamar has already been serving as a the Village Head in his Ukrainian community for more than a year. Despite his important position, Vasyl does not have a private office in the town hall. Instead he shares a small 6-by-6 foot walk-through space in the local post office. But that doesn’t bother him, because the location gives him even more opportunities to be as close to the citizens as possible. “I chose not to have a private office for a reason. That distances you from people,” he explains.
The community that Vasyl is in charge of is comprised of four villages — Ivankiv, Hushtyn, Berezhany and Triytsya — totaling approximately 2,500 residents. The challenges the community faces are typical for the region, including infrastructure problems like the lack of quality roads, street lighting and youth recreational opportunities. With the promotion of decentralization and local control as one of the main priorities of the Ukrainian government, the USAID Decentralization Offering Better Results and Efficiency (DOBRE) program was launched in 2016 to strengthen local governance and improve conditions for community development to promote stability and democratic practices. Under USAID DOBRE, Global Communities organized a series DIY Youth Forums to engage young people to identify and analyze community priorities and develop ideas for youth projects.
When discussing his decision to run for civic office, despite his young age, Vasyl explains, “The driving motivation for me at that time was local youth believed in me and saw a person who can create changes in community decision-making processes for the better.” So when Vasyl learned about the USAID DOBRE program, he jumped at the opportunity to get the town’s youth involved. He mobilized 99 youth activists to discuss possible projects to implement in the community, and after much discussion they agreed on a youth community center project. When describing the impact that the DIY Youth Forum had on him, Vasyl explains, “This forum gave me the opportunity to restart and rethink a lot of issues, like engaging maximum stakeholders in decision-making processes and showing project’s cost-share. It provided me with a really special motivation and gave me an additional push. It mobilized my internal resources and will to change the community for the better.”
Once all of the DIY Youth Forum project ideas are finalized and approved, each community will receive technical and financial support from USAID DOBRE to successfully guide and manage their implementation. Vasyl is very excited about the youth center project selected by his community. He feels it will help connect even more youth within the villages of the region and demonstrate to young people the power of working together on an important cause.
Vasyl is committed to improving his community and rejoices in the gradual changes he sees taking place. “Toward the end of my post, I’d love to see my community prosper by doing what people value and need the most.”
Human Rights Defender of People with Disabilities
Yancy Lanuza Meneses, 29, has been an advocate for disabled people since she was six years old. At three months old, her sister Yarisma was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and intellectual impairment. From that point on, Yancy took it upon herself to be her sister’s defender and champion. Yancy explains, “I took care of her. If I went to play with my little cousins, she went with me. Sometimes they did not want me to bring her to play. They rejected her, but I would lecture them.” Yancy’s vocal and continuous advocacy on her sister’s behalf paid off. Yarisma was accepted in games with her cousins and, over time, other relatives as well as neighbors and others in the community began treating her like any other child.
Yancy and her family live in Bluefields on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast. Despite being a fair-sized city, accommodations and resources for people with disabilities are severely lacking. Public sidewalks, streets and buildings are generally not accessible for people with disabilities. Local transportation is also an issue with taxi drivers who sometimes refuse to drive them or try to charge them extra. Specialized medical care was also not available for her sister, so they were forced to make the long trip to the capital Managua. Since her family could not afford the short one-hour flight, they had to take a small boat from Bluefields to a town further inland and from there take a bus. The entire journey could take up to 12 hours.
All these challenges did not daunt Yancy; they strengthened her resolve to not only to be an advocate for her sister, but for all disabled people in Bluefields. When she was 20, she began volunteering with Los Pipitos, an association for parents of children with disabilities. Through her work there she became familiar with all aspects of the Law 763, the national law which outlines the rights of the persons with disabilities. “At any time I defend the rights of people with disabilities. I put the blind people in front of the line and tell the cashiers that according to the law, they are a priority. I accompany mothers to the schools when their children suffer discrimination. Wherever I see [discrimination] I cannot tolerate it because it is an injustice,” said Yancy.
Los Pipitos is affiliated with the Federation of Associations of People with Disabilities, FECONORI, and is a partner of the USAID Local Governance Program run by Global Communities. Since 2014, the Local Governance Program has supported FECONORI in strengthening and empowering people with disabilities to exercise their citizenship. Through various trainings under the program, Yancy learned about leadership, civic action and the different laws that protect citizens and their right to participate in the public affairs of their municipalities. When discussing her new skills, Yancy explains, “We learned how to present ourselves at city hall and to be included in the municipal budget. Previously, we did not work together in an organized way, but rather individually.”
With this new knowledge Yancy worked with FENCORI and its affiliated organizations to present a proposal to the municipal government for the construction of a small physical rehabilitation center for disabled children. The proposal was approved and the project was allocated $50,000 in the 2017 municipal budget. For Yancy and the other advocates for disabled people in Bluefields this was a great victory.
However, despite the allocation of funds, by May 2017 no construction had begun on the new center. Concerned about the delay and a lack of response from the mayor on her repeated inquiries, she and the parents of children with disabilities met to formulate an advocacy plan. According to the law, the municipal government is required to hold five council meetings a year to inform the public about progress in implementing the municipal budget. So at the next council meeting in June, Yancy and the other disability advocates were ready. They showed up to the meeting en masse with signs and banners. When the public was given a chance to comment, Yancy took the microphone and spoke about the lack of progress on the promised rehabilitation center.
As a result, the municipal government has promised to start the construction of the center in August 2017 and Yancy is standing by to make sure that they do. “My dream is to see that house built so we can take care of all the children with disabilities in Bluefields.”