By Tendai Banda, United Nations Volunteer
Have you ever felt left out of decisions that will greatly affect you? Or wished you were consulted about something but not asked? That’s the state of affairs for many young people in countries like Malawi. In all fairness, it’s costly for governments to spend the little resources they have on consultations every time they have a youth related project or policy. But without consultation, these projects and policies may not reflect of what young people on the ground want or need. What if there was an opportunity to have real time discussions on what young people really want to see happening? To know what they prioritize and to ensure that youth services reflect that. The possibility of having about 60 percent of the population under the age of 35 feeling that they are heard and that their thoughts matter. This may seem far-fetched but I feel that the coming of U-Report Malawi brings us a step closer to this ideal scenario.
U-Report was first launched in Uganda in 2011 and now has a presence in 40 countries. It is a free mobile-based tool to address issues that young people care about through regular opinion polls. Alerts and polls are sent out to U-Reporters via SMS text messaging and real-time response information is collected and shared with U-Reporters themselves, the media and decision makers. In Malawi, anyone can join U-Report by texting JOIN to 1177.
My name is Tendai and I am a U-Reporter! As a UN Volunteer working for UNICEF, I attended the U-Report Malawi launch at Malawi College of Health Sciences in Lilongwe. Like the other young people who were present at colorful event, I was so excited to be part of this great innovation that will take youth participation to another level! There was a real buzz in the hall as young people sang and danced along with up and coming hip hop artists who came to celebrate with them. Others gathered outside in the cool late afternoon to snap selfies with the stars on their mobile phones.
What excited me the most was that the Minister of Labor, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development, Francis Kasaila, was there to launch the platform. I feel that it is very important for the Ministry to embrace this platform, as it deals with youth participation and U-Report presents an opportunity to ensure that young people like me are not left out on decisions that affect us. I look forward to the time when we have a youth policy or programme informed by how young people voted on an issue using U-Report.
Also in attendance was one of Malawi’s biggest hip hop artist, Fredokiss, who is also a UNICEF Champion for Children. There was a deafening roar as Fredo entered the hall, and the students cheered, waved and stamped their feet. Fredokiss urged all the young people at the launch to join U-Report as it provides them a unique opportunity to participate in issues that affect them. Fun fact: Fredokiss is also a U-Reporter himself!
UNICEF Malawi acting Representative Roisin de Burca made the case for U-Report in terms of child rights. “The right to a voice is less well known than other rights but it is equally fundamental,” she said. “Children who are silenced cannot challenge violence and abuse perpetrated against them. The capacity to learn is restricted without the chance to question, challenge and debate. And policy-makers cannot identify the barriers to fulfilling children’s rights if they do not hear from children about the existence and nature of those barriers.”
As a young person, I was honored to be part of the launch and to become one of the first U-Reporters in Malawi. Being a U-Reporter makes me feel like I have an opportunity to have my thoughts and opinions count for something. For a long time, young people have been criticized for just talking on social media about what they want, to an audience that doesn’t have power to influence change on their behalf.
However, U-Report is providing the bridge that was lacking between our youth voices and the people responsible for policy making. It will provide a platform for the youth to express their views and for decision makers to see our position on various issues. Polling is going to be conducted on issues such as access to education, health services and safe water, ending child marriage, HIV and AIDS, and violence against children.
I got the chance to interact with other young people at the launch, and they were also excited about the opportunities that U-Report will bring for youth in Malawi. Tarcizius Chikaonda, a young man from Likuni, felt that the fact that U-Report is mobile based will allow young people to be free to express their opinion without the fear of someone criticizing or judging them. “Since it’s a mobile application people will have all the freedom to use it and report anything they have without being scared.” he said.
Tricia Lisirira, a student at Malawi College of Health Sciences felt that U-Report has finally given young people the opportunity to put out their thoughts to the world. “The majority of the population in Malawi are young people, so if they all join U-Report they will be able to influence decisions that need to be made about them,” she said.
U-Report will also give chance for young people to report on things happening in their community. Francis Chimberenga felt that this will help a lot in terms of curbing child marriage. “If a young girl is forced into marriage and is made to drop out of school, and the matter is reported via U-Report, she can be saved from this,” he said.
Lastly, I believe that at every young person who owns a mobile phone would be happy to use it for a good cause. U-Report is providing this opportunity at no cost to the user. It is my hope that young people in Malawi will embrace U-Report by actively participating in the polls as well as using it as a tool to report issues in their community! I also believe that the success of U-Report will also have a bearing on how it is used, so I hope that the Government and other stakeholders will use U-Report when crafting programs for young people, to ensure that we are not left behind. Nothing for us without us!
To become a U-Reporter text JOIN to 1177. Or to see the results of polls, visit www.ureport.mw