The voices trying to make change

Phil Hanks

This International Youth Day, Phil Hanks, our Partnerships Manager and Youth Technical Lead, reflects on some of the impressive youth advocates he’s worked with over the years.

In my role, I’ve had the privilege of working with loads of brilliant youth advocates around the world. From Kenya, to Zambia, to the Philippines, to Papua New Guinea and many more, working with young people has allowed me to gain insight into the barriers they face globally.

Disability advocacy is so important. And young people play a vital role in using their voices to bring about change. So this International Youth Day, I want to highlight just some of the youth advocates I’ve worked with who are fighting for a better future for young disabled people.

Kibe Yohana

Kibe was part of Leonard Cheshire’s 2030 and Counting youth advocacy project. Kibe, who has a physical disability, took on the role of ‘citizen reporter’. He worked within local communities to identify some of the key challenges young people were facing. Especially the barriers they faced accessing things like education, healthcare and employment.

Since the project, Kibe has gone on to be a passionate disability advocate, focusing on research. After all, we need robust data to really demonstrate existing inequalities and measure progress! So Kibe is hoping to help paint this picture through his own work as a Junior Researcher with a focus on disability inclusion.

A selfie of Kibe Yohana, who was part of our 2030 and counting project

More recently Kibe contributed the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Youth Development Index Report – out this week!

Leonard Cheshire led on the disability chapter of the report and Kibe introduced the chapter with fellow youth advocate and 2030 and Counting alumni Maria Njeri. The report is really important in showcasing challenges young disabled people face around the world. 

I asked Kibe what International Youth Day means to him. He said:

“International Youth Day means a day I can celebrate the accomplishments and efforts of young people around the world. It is the day we recognise the efforts of these young people at inclusion, economic advancement and equality.

"It also means a day we take a closer look and evaluate the approaches we use in our advocacy efforts as youth. And make adjustments where necessary.

Kicky Namooya

Kicky is another youth citizen reporter that I worked with through 2030 and Counting in Zambia. Born with a visual impairment, Kicky has been advocating for the rights of disabled people from a young age! And with an invested interest in education, since 2019, he has been teaching a school in Zambia. There, he is very active in advocating for the rights of disabled people — especially those with learning needs.

As well as teaching, Kicky is also part of Youth Action for Disability Inclusion Zambia (YADIZ), founded by fellow 2030 and Counting citizen reporter Ian Banda. As part of YADIZ, Kicky continues to work with other youth advocates to highlight inequalities in Zambia.

Kicky Namooya, part of our 2030 and counting project

Kicky is mainly focused on challenging stigma and discrimination at school. He wants to reduce school bullying and promote inclusion. Recently, he has been part of Leonard Cheshire’s collaboration with UNESCO to address this issue.

Through advocacy, Kicky hopes “the world will become a better place where poverty, stigma, discrimination and corruption, among others are eliminated.”

Ashwini Angadi

Ashwini is another youth advocate I’d like to shine a spotlight on. Born with a visual impairment, Ashwini is a disability rights advocate from Bengaluru, India. She has been dedicated to improving the lives of youths with disabilities in India.

She also took part in our Young Voices programme, which was the predecessor to 2030 and Counting. The programme enabled young people to participate in civil society action to help governments make decisions around inclusion.

Since then, Ashwini has gone on to establish the Ashwini Angadi Trust (AAT). It’s a youth-led Organisation of Persons with Disabilities (OPD). The main objective is to provide education to disabled students.

More recently, Ashwini has been working closely with Leonard Cheshire on some necessary youth-led research related to the pandemic. Working with other youth with disabilities worldwide, Ashwini contributed to the report to help highlight how the pandemic has affected young disabled people globally. Too often, young people are side-lined. So it’s been essential to come together to advocate for young disabled people during such a critical time!

Parinvut Rochanavedya (JJ)

More recently, I’ve been working with JJ in Thailand on our Access to Employment (A2E) pilot programme.

JJ has Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism. And he’s been using his experiences in the workplace to advocate for better disability inclusion in Thailand. As a Lead Youth Advocate, JJ has developed his skills and confidence to help empower other youth with disabilities to speak out about the inequalities they’re facing.

JJ, who is part of our access to employment programme

As part of being a Lead Advocate for the programme, JJ also attended advocacy events with government officials and CEOs. At these events, he shared intel about the barriers young disabled people face in Thailand. Recently, he took part in an event at the High Level Political Forum. There he spoke to Organisations for Disabled People (ODPs) and representatives of the Thai Government. He highlighted the importance of inclusive employment pathways, especially in the wake of the pandemic.

Reflecting on what International Youth Day means to him, JJ said: “On this international youth day, as a young person with disability, I would like to emphasise the need for, and the value of, having a workplace that is conscious of how every individual operates. And gives them the right environment to discover and support their potential.”