The UN CSW Week

I am privileged to be working with Women Deliver, one of the leading international advocacy organizations for women’s reproductive health rights, and well being of a girl child. The organization participates in the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) as key players.CSW annually brings representatives from UN Member States, civil society, and other UN agencies together in New York to review the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action. This is a platform for key players in Member States to evaluate efforts geared at achieving gender equality and rights for girls and women, whilst garnering support from a bigger network of partners globally in achieving this objective.

This year’s theme, “Challenges and Achievements in the Implementation of Millennium Development Goals for women and girls,” revolved around stakeholders’ focusing on the impact of the MDGs on girls and women, sighting better ways to advocate for a better post 2015. Women from all Member States are using this timely moment to prioritize on inadequately addressed key issues in the MDGs that are hindering the advancement of the rights of women, to achieve progress for all.

It’s amazing to not only attend, but interact, share, learn new interesting perspectives to the real issues affecting the development of youth, especially girls.  I had special interest in sexual and reproductive health rights, and environmental conservation issues-which were being addressed too.

To learn more about CSW and the different side events open to the public, click here.To follow the conversations online, follow the Commission on Twitter @UN_CSW and #CSW58

Teach us more about our bodies!

She was the closest friend I ever had while growing up. With a fairer skin, almond eyes and a warm smile, Jane (not real name) was a beauty to behold. We did everything together. But all this came to an end when my parents sent me to boarding school. Jane wasn’t fortunate enough to go to the above-average schools I went to but she received a basic education.

On day, I came home to a shocking story that my best friend had conceived but didn’t go through with the pregnancy. She had carried out an unsafe abortion that almost cost her life. I remember feeling sorry about her experience but never disappointed in her.935186_10152005111672469_108261591_n

This incident and a pregnancy that followed a year later greatly affected our friendship to the extent that Jane hid from me every time I came home for the holidays. She had her first baby at sixteen, and this was the end of her education journey. She is now a mother to four children. For a long time after losing my friend to early motherhood, I started getting curious about sexual and reproductive related issues.

It created in me a deep desire to learn more about why girls like my friend “chose” to get pregnant, especially at an early age. I thought it was just a choice- It is actually supposed to be but it is rarely the case among young girls. I was very curious about sexual and reproductive health related issues but was shy to ask anyone anything about it. Even among my friends, its taboo to talk about such a topic; it’s just the way we are brought up- to believe that sex is something to be talked about my adults. We had the basic female teacher talks in primary school but these sessions were not elaborate enough.

When I finally achieved independence to join Makerere University in Uganda, the first thing I did was to enroll for a course about community mobilization and sensitization about sexual and reproductive health at Reproductive Health Uganda. To date, I consider it one of the best choices I have ever made in life. Peer education activities exposed me to some of the harsh realities young girls face in society, and this presents a pressing need to educate young people about their sexuality and their bodies. I also learnt some of the causes of teen pregnancies, unsafe abortions and school drop outs. During one of the open sessions in peer education, a lady shared;

“I conceived the first time I attempted to have sex with my boyfriend. I wasn’t ready for this baby,” She was disappointed in herself for not seeking knowledge about sex education earlier. However, I couldn’t blame her. I blamed her mother.

“Mother always threatened to banish me from home if I ever indulged in sexual relations or even get pregnant while still in school.” She added. Her mother had thrown her out of the house but she couldn’t stop blaming herself for ruining the only chance she had of getting an education. The two stories above represent thousands of such many cases of young girls who have lost bright futures to early pregnancies, school drop outs and in even worse cases contracting HIV/AIDS and death.

My country Uganda, the African continent and the world in general needs to change their perceptions about education of the young generation about sex education, their bodies and reproductive health related issues, especially girls. The world we are growing up in today is very different from that of our parents’ and our grandparents, who set these taboos society is bent to.  Compared to 20 years ago, young people are entering adolescence earlier and healthier, and they are likely to spend more time in school and enter the workforce later. As a result, marriage and childbearing now generally occur later than they did in the past, especially for women. And, inevitably, postponing marriage has meant that sex before marriage has become more common.

According to a Guttmacher Institute report entitled: Protecting the Next Generation in Sub-Saharan Africa: Learning from Adolescents to Prevent HIV and Unintended Pregnancy; adolescent females in Sub-Saharan Africa tend to have sex at an earlier age than their male counterparts, and thus are at particular risk fosr HIV, unwanted pregnancy and other adverse outcomes. In a survey conducted in Burkina Faso, Malawi, Ghana, and Uganda, almost 60% of females have had sex by age 18, compared with about 40–45% of males.

A recent discovery in Uganda reveals that unsafe abortions as the second leading cause of maternal deaths in the country. The reality is that society needs to focus on empowering the young generation, especially girls with education, trainings and all comprehensive knowledge about sexual, reproductive health and family planning for young mothers.

To add my voices to and for the young girls and youth out there that cannot make the right choices for their bodies, I have joined the global advocacy movement. I believe that my voice, with voices of us all combined can make case for the young girls who have fallen victims of early motherhood, unsafe abortions and even forced sexual relations because they couldn’t defend themselves.

I started out as a fun student, and later a peer educator. There is no fun and inspiring thing I have ever done than telling fellow young people about their bodies and how they should protect themselves from unsafe sex, unplanned pregnancies and general reproductive health. There was something about someone walking to me and asking for more condoms (we used to distribute female and male condoms during peer education sessions) or even just calling to clarify about a certain contraceptive they weren’t sure about. It’s fulfilling.

It’s not too late for you to join the movement. Take a stand this International Women’s Day. Look back at what denial of access to basic sexual and reproductive health education has caused to human development. If you join us now, to commit and ensure that every girl wherever they are gets appropriate, accurate and comprehensive information on sexuality on time, we can still make sure that the young generation maximizes their potential to achieve their dreams without limits. It’s not too late for you to join.

You can sign a pledge of a campaign like this one, join movements making case for the rights of girls from obstacles like early child marriages and school drop outs like this one or join coalitions working together on a common agenda for adolescents and young people to acquire comprehensive sex education and youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services that will strengthen our national, regional and international responses to early and unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions and school drops for the brighter future of young women.

Happy International Women’s Day!

This post originally was originally posted here

To bigger and better days of service!

Originally posted at http://zirenah.wordpress.com/

Between 2009 and 2010, I decided to do something different with my life, something to make me a better person. With the rising unemployment levels in Uganda, and currently above 75%, it is hard for anyone to get a job. One has got to acquire other unique skills besides the degree/s and because of this; I decided to give freelance journalism a try. This was during the second semester of first year in my pursuit of a Bachelors’ degree in Mass Communication at Makerere University.

With guidance from a number of people I treasure to-date; I started writing articles for The  New Vision national newspaper. In no time, I was supplementing my pocket money with a few dollars earned from my published articles, and also building networks. Besides that, I sought other volunteering opportunities from which I discovered peer education in reproductive health. It required me to first enroll for a certificate in community based reproductive health at Reproductive Health Uganda and later volunteer into peer education about family planning, sexual and reproductive health issues-which I all did in a period of less than four months.

For a young, shy and unexposed girl, I found this the most exciting experience of my life. I learnt so much at a personal level, and I am sure I positively changed many lives during my peer education sessions about sexual and reproductive health among communities. The most liberating lesson of all was the knowledge I gathered about one making bodily choices, many youth in the developing world don’t get a chance to get.Of course my mother wasn’t amused to hear that her daughter was teaching people about “how to use condoms” and stuff like that but she later learnt to accept the it. I’ve never regretted the time I spent doing this.

From these two experiences, I learnt the spirit of volunteership and service, and I have since grabbed every opportunity I get to work with teams of enthusiastic people to change my society. I continue to volunteer in areas of women, girls and youth empowerment, tourism and conservation of the environment, among other charity causes. These service calls have now become apart of my struggle to contribute to the change I want to see in my world.

So when I received the good news that I was selected to be part of the Class 14 Atlas Corps fellows, and to serve at Women Deliver; I couldn’t help but feel happy about the path I chose. One vivid memory about the interview with the Women Deliver panel is the moment when they were interested in learning more about my experiences as peer educator and freelancer. I guess it’s the reason I was given this opportunity :)

Women Deliver is an international nonprofit organization that advocates for maternal, sexual and reproductive rights of women, and girl child empowerment. In my days of service here, I will join the communications team to work on among other communication assignments, the “It Takes Two” family planning campaign currently being implemented in East Africa, and the C-Exhange Youth Program for the youth around the world.

When things fall into place

Exactly a year ago, while I was in the middle of my Management Trainee Program in HSBC Bank, I got the opportunity to meet Scott Beale, Founder of Atlas Corps, in my home city and country Panama.

Small world, his wife was assigned to the US Embassy in Monterrey and Carlos Villereal was part of their Youth Advisory Council and also a current student in Global Leadership Program in Panama I coordinated since 2010. Scott got to speak to the July 2012 GLP class and asked them for suggestions on Panamanian social entrepreneurs that could be interested in Atlas Corps, Carlos and others suggested me and Scott, who doesn’t miss a chance to connect, got in contact with me. At the time, my goal was to learn how the for-profit world worked and operated, so I ended up very interested in Atlas Corps but turned it down temporarily.

Ten months later, with the starting of 2013, I reevaluated my goals and I came up with two new and very important things I wanted to accomplish: 1) A spiritual balance and 2) International working experience. With these two things in mind, I finally finished filling in my application for the September Class 13 for Atlas Corps.

Little that I knew, in a matter of a month I was doing my english test and having my first interviews with the Atlas staff and in a matter of days they had found a placement that really fit my profile, operations and finance manager for a social enterprise called Kopali Organics that imports and sells organic chocolate from Peruvian farmers.

I was no longer going to be Class 13 and have 6 months to figure out logistics and say good bye to everyone, I now only had 3 weeks to move my life to the warm city of Miami and start building a new life, knowledge, friendships and connections. Although thinking about it sounded stressful, it felt right and as soon as I accepted everything else started to fall into place.

Only 3 weeks after accepting to become a fellow, I found myself in the Atlas Corps offices meeting all the staff and Scott’s new baby Elliot, staying with and meeting some current fellows based in DC, sharing orientation with Nada my only classmate for class 12B and carrying 2 bags that now symboled my only belongings in this new beginning.

Although Miami is a bigger Panama, living here by yourself  and adapting to a different culture and working environment has helped me achieve goal #1 to become more spiritually balanced… which I have defined as…. to become more conscious of my behavior and reactions and to be more appreciative of my daily experiences.

Stay tune!!! Loads to be shared in this next 12 months of self-discovery!

Virginia Campo

June 4th 2013

All the pieces come together

Maintaining Emotional Wellbeing

“A good friend is hard to find, hard to lose, and impossible to forget…”

Having to deal with time missed with loved ones of family and friends over the last six months has been the hardest part of my Atlas Corps experience. Whilst I have been fortunate enough to be blessed with the love and sisterhood of new forged friendships and acquaintances to counteract those moments of loneliness, sometimes even that is not enough.

Over the weekend I needed to speak to my friends who have known me so long that they often have insight into the things I say and do without the need for explanations that new friends require. Thanks to modern technology I was able to speak to two friends on Skype, one in Kent, England and the other in Lagos, Nigeria in a group chat. This one hour conversation did more to sooth my emotional well being than my current default love of Turkey Hill Double Dunker ice cream tub has ever done. It gave me a renewed and re energised outlook and enabled me to find an inner strength to continue to look ahead to the goals and objectives that bought me along this journey.

Nonetheless I cannot also stress enough the need to have those new friends who are equally insightful enough to understand that tweet or the ambiguous Facebook status is actually a SOS or cry for help and thus seek you out through a call, visit or simply drag you out for a night of food, laughter and dancing.

Friends for me are like the family I get to chose and so far I am blessed to have found family in the friendships I have forged through my atlas corps network and beyond. This is the necessary ingredients in ensuring my emotional well-being is maintained on those days when all I want to do is run back to the comforts of home!

A personal journey of finding ‘home’ across the Atlantic.

Having somewhere to go is a home,
Having someone to love is a family,
Having both is a blessing.

This old adage has seen me through the turbulences that marked my Atlas Corps journey thus far. It has been a truly humbling experience serving adults experiencing chronic homelessness in down town Washington D.C at Miriam’s Kitchen. This coupled by my own housing problems made even clearer to me the importance of having a shelter in which one is able to call home, albeit even if it is a temporary one for a service year. In the initial few weeks of my fellowship, I was forced to move from the place I was renting and ended up staying with family. Though this initially appeared to be a blessing in disguise, it soon very became apparent that even with the best intentions in mind; people are often unable to maintain the level of generosity initially promised.

At Miriam’s Kitchen I am privileged to meet courageous men and women, some whom have experienced homelessness recurrently for years and even decades, as well as others for whom this is their first experience. I have found their courage in trying to maintain dignity in spite of such adversity to be a source of inspiration, whilst many condemn and view homelessness as a personal failing; to me it is a sad reflection of societal failure requiring collective efforts in order to stem the tide of chronic homelessness. A friend of mine recently commented that rent in D.C. must be cheaper in comparison to London given its relatively small size; alas this is not the case in fact only recently a newspaper article highlighted the fact that D.C. is now the second most expensive city in the US, after San Diego. Clearly there is a housing boom with development going on not just within the district but also in surrounding neighborhoods, the concept of ‘affordable housing’ continues to be but a distant dream for many professionals. Even worst for those in the lower income bracket, such as the many the guests that attend Miriam’s Kitchen, who despite having grown up in Washington for generations, have now found that they have been priced out of their homes.

Whilst at the annual Miriam’s Kitchen signature fundraising event #100Bowls of Compassion last week, glamour and fun was high on the agenda and the exotic Nordic theme served up some truly imaginative food, the focal point was to celebrate and support Miriam’s Kitchen mission to end chronic homelessness and this was reflected in the fact that over $600,000 was raised to help this crucial fight. It was indeed a proud night for me not just as an Atlas Corps Fellow, but more crucially as a current member of the awesome team of amazing individuals of staff and volunteers that collectively make Miriam’s Kitchen a great place to serve.

Support Miriam’s Kitchen in the fight to end chronic homelessness.

International Women’sDay; making women a priority beyond-2015

Women have proven to be the backbone of our society. They are the mothers, the daughters, caregivers, nurturers, main breadwinners, bosses, political leaders, educators, and the ones we readily run to whenever we have a tummy or headache.

The contribution of women to our society is tremendously astounding and undeniable. This is why the harsh realities they face on a daily basis is not only inhumane but also unforgiveable.

These acts of injustice meted out towards women cannot be ignored.

Starting today until the March 13, 2013, Advocates, in collaboration with the Atlas Corps Fellowship program will be hosting an online event, “Young People Speak Out For Women’s Empowerment” to celebrate International Women’s Day. For the next few days, young people from around the world will share short videos discussing what women empowerment means to them and what they are most passionate about.

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is, “The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum.” Today not only celebrates the many victories women have accomplished over the years, but also highlights the myriad issues facing women and girls worldwide. The theme “The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum” is quite fitting for this year’s celebrations, as the international community is working assiduously to ensure that women’s issues are prioritized in the post 2015 development agenda process.

In spite of the great progress we are celebrating today, we can’t shy away from the persistent challenges facing women. A global health snapshot of today’s young women shows that about 16 million adolescent girls give birth every year, most of whom live in low and middle-income countries. According to the World Health Organization in 2008, there were 21.6 million unsafe abortions worldwide and almost 14% of all unsafe abortions in developing countries occur among women under 20 years of age. Women account for 49% of all adults living with HIV and young women have a much greater risk of becoming infected with HIV than young men. Further, women continue to be the object of traditional harmful practices that violate their human rights. As many as 85 million to 115 million girls and women in the world have undergone some form of female genital mutilation and suffer from its adverse health effects.

The United Nations is currently commencing its fifty-seventh session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York until March 15. It is my hope that during these meetings and through the course today, and beyond even that, stakeholders will engage in discussions around education for women, as women constitute more than 2/3 of the world illiterate population and out of school youth are women and girls. The UN and other international bodies will commit to eradicating over 140 million FMG procedures performed annual on young girls.

It is also my desire to finally see climate change experts accepting the correlation between climate change and women’s health. Women bear the greatest burden associated with the consequences of climate change. We sadly remember Haiti where many women and girls were raped, beaten, and forced into prostitution by UN Peacekeepers following the devastating 2010 earthquake or how women living in remote African villages face severely poor access to health care and services as a result of the effects of climate change on their environment and resources.

In the post 2015 development agenda discussions, we must prioritize a wide range of women’s issues, from access to sexual and reproductive health care and commodities for young women, including transwomen; access to equal educational opportunities; the right to experience a positive childhood without being forced into marriage; the right to have full control of their own bodies; and an empowering and enabling environment to end potential violent relationships.

As a young male and ally, today I celebrate my single mother; who, before departing this physical realm raised three children on her own with minimal assistance from anyone. I celebrate her smiles and warm touch that masked the pain she endured and the tears she bravely held back. Today, as a male I celebrate the many sacrifices my mother made to ensure that her children got the best education, that they remained polite and respectable to everyone regardless of the situation. Today March 8, I stand in solidarity with all my female friends who refuse to conform to society’s false concepts of what a woman should be, and the rights that are afforded to her.

So, as you go throughout today, call your mom, sister, aunt, daughter, coworker, friend or girlfriend and express your appreciation and recommitment to ensuring a better, safer and more progressive place for them and future generations of girls and women.

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Have a progressive, safe International Women’s Day!

And so it begins…

Good morning everyone!

I am currently sitting on the train making my way to New Jersey where I will be serving with Charity Navigator. First and foremost, I want to wish everyone good, continued and meaningful service.

Class 11 fellows: This is the beginning of a journey that we will ultimately shape ourselves, so get ready to take hold and harness in all the support and resources that have been provided to us. We are off to a great start. I am excited to see everyone’s future progress, development and achievements, because I know we have a great group and a great support team in the Atlas Corps staff. As well, from getting to meet some of your supervisors, it seems clear to me that there will be substantial solid leadership development to come.

To the fellows leaving in the next month or two: You are some of the pioneers that are helping pave the way for this program. Make the most out of the last portion of your stay and thank you for all the feedback and recommendations that have helped shape the program. It is time of an exciting next step. Enjoy the ride!

I must say, these past two weeks have been more than I expected; not only from a professional standpoint, but from a personal one as well. To Scott, Kelly, Abby, Emily, Meredith, Lenore, Dave and Dipanwita: “Thanks for the great orientation and training that you put together and just getting us all here in the first place.”

From a personal standpoint, thank you Atlas Corps family. I have had so many great and deep conversations over the past two weeks and learnt so much from everyone that it has been a pleasure to get to meet and get closer to all of you. I feel quite humble to be in the same group. In being a satellite fellow, I know that I will be a bit removed, but I do hope to be able to keep in touch with as many of you as possible.

It is definitely bittersweet to be leaving to my host organization. I will definitely miss the packed, crazy and dynamic last two weeks, but at the same time, I have been growing incrementally excited about getting to my host organization. My curiosity in learning more about the organization and how I can best contribute has peaked, so I actually can’t wait to arrive in just a few hours.

On that note, I will leave you with one last thought: “Change your perspective, change the world.”

And when you think about it. Why not?

Your fellow,

Steven Caron serving at Charity Navigator in New Jersey

Atlas Corps Welcomes New Senior Director: Kelly Reid!

Atlas Corps is pleased to welcome a new addition to our team, Senior Director Kelly Reid. Kelly brings more than 10 years of professional experience, with a long history in the nonprofit, which includes involvement with YNPN, the Center for Nonprofit Advancement, and the Washington Post Award for Excellence in Nonprofit Management. Kelly will oversee the programmatic activities of the organization, which includes organizational expansion, the Nonprofit Management Series, and recruitment of Fellows in collaboration with the Atlas Corps Team. Read her full biography below.

Meet Kelly and learn more about Atlas Corps at our upcoming Washington, DC, Breakfast on
Wednesday, September 26, http://bit.ly/atlascorpsdcsept26

Kelly Reid Biography

Kelly brings to Atlas Corps more than a decade of partnership building, team leadership, and organizational development experience. As Director of Organizational Development with the National MultiCultural Institute and an independent consultant, she helped approximately 40 public, private, and social sector organizations advance their missions by leading initiatives to strengthen operations, enhance capacity, and improve cultural competency. Driven by a commitment to social justice, Kelly’s professional experience include extensive background engaging with the unique needs of diverse and traditionally underserved communities. Her previous positions include: Program Officer for the Institute of International Education’s Investing in Women in Development fellowship program; AmeriCorps*VISTA with Survivors of Torture, International; and Research Assistant of the Instituto de Estudios de la Mujer, UNA in Costa Rica. Kelly is an avid community volunteer, including holding voluntary leadership positions with the Baltimore-Washington Racial Diversity Collaborative and YNPNdc’s Board of Directors. She also founded the Committee for Social Justice and Public Safety in London, was an ESL Instructor, and served as Educational Advocate for the Sudanese Refugee Network in San Diego. Kelly holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Kentucky, a Masters in Gender from The London School of Economics, and a certificate in Development Project Management from Monterey Institute of International Studies.

Meet Kelly and learn more about Atlas Corps at our upcoming Washington, DC, Breakfast on
Wednesday, September 26, http://bit.ly/atlascorpsdcsept26