A few weeks ago, myself and nine incredible Canadian youth set off on a journey that would change all of our lives forever. As Youth Advocates for Plan International Canada’s #ChangetheBirthStory campaign, we were given the opportunity to travel to Ghana to see the programs we support in action.
Change the Birth Story is a campaign run by Plan International Canada that is working to improve access to healthcare for women and girls during pregnancy and childbirth around the world. The purpose of the campaign is to raise awareness and support for programs being implemented in countries including Bangladesh, Ghana, Haiti, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, Malawi, and Mozambique. The goal of these programs is to contribute to the reduction of maternal and child mortality in targeted regions among marginalized and vulnerable women, especially adolescent girls and children. Plan is working to change the birth story by training health care providers, engaging men and boys as proactive partners and delivering sexual and reproductive health and rights education through local partners. They have also helped to establish Adolescent Clubs, Daddies’ Clubs, and Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) to strengthen the community.
There are 30 Youth Advocates spread out across Canada who I am working with to collect endorsements as part of the Change the Birth Story campaign. Our goal is to show the government that Canadians care about these issues and want funding to continue to go towards this project. An endorsement can look like a written signature, an online signature, or a picture of raised hands at a larger presentation. Over the course of this year, each of us will be collecting 500 endorsements of support from Canadians by word of mouth, giving talks, and raising awareness on social media.
Shortly after our Youth Advocate Training for this year, 10 of us were chosen to embark on an incredible trip to Ghana to enhance our understanding of this project. The purpose of this trip was to facilitate an exchange of knowledge and experience with Ghanaian and Canadian youth. Throughout our trip, all of us were able to form deep and lasting relationships with individuals who have been directly impacted by this project.
After a long 24 hours of travelling, we arrived in Accra, the capital of Ghana. On our first day we visited the Legon Botanical Garden where we were able to explore and appreciate the natural beauty of Ghana.
On our second day we left Accra and got on a 3 hour bus ride to the Volta region where we we met the 10 Ghanaian youth who had been selected from their communities. They are each leaders of their Adolescent clubs in their communities and they are all incredibly kind and motivated. Throughout the week, we visited community projects and participated in workshops together.
During our trip, we had the opportunity to visit three communities in the Volta region. We were welcomed by the entire community each time and then had the chance to sit in on some group and club meetings.
One of my favourite meetings we sat in on was the Daddies’ Club where there were 40 men in attendance. They participated in an activity where they compared male and female gender roles in their community discussed how they can support their wives in the household. They came together to find ways they can help that included cooking, sweeping, washing, caring for children, and taking their wives to the clinic or hospital during pregnancy.
We also sat in on a Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) meeting that is a savings groups where community members to come together to support each other financially. These community-based groups are locally run support systems that benefit all members. In order to be a part of this group, each member must contribute a small share. During medical or financial emergencies, any member is able to rely on the group for support. After only one year of this group, they were able to afford things like children’s school supplies and roofing maintenance.
In many of the communities that this project is working in, youth are involved in Adolescent Clubs. These groups provide a safe space for discussions to take place about topics including reproductive rights, healthy lifestyles and the importance of education. We watched as the youth participated in games, activities, and drama performances to demonstrate their learning.
On the second day of project visits, we had the chance to sit in on a meeting with the Community Health Committee who are all volunteers. When asked why they joined the Committee the volunteers explained that they simply wanted to save lives in their community. In this community, the closest hospital is one hour away by car and there is only one car in their community that is able to provide emergency transport. The Committee members want to see improvements in education, access to transportation, and learning facilities. They are inspired to continue their work to continue helping people in their community.
How is the birth story changing?
- Youth are being empowered by learning about their rights
- Teen pregnancies are decreasing rapidly
- Male engagement is increasing
- Community members are able to rely on each other for financial support during times of crisis
- Access to safe and quality maternal, newborn and child healthcare is steadily improving
- Communities are eager to ensure that these projects can be sustained in the future
My Biggest Takeaways
- Ghanaians are courageously kind people
- They are incredibly generous and welcoming
- Communities are open-minded and eager to make a better life for themselves and their children
- They are able to have conversations about important topics that are often taboo in Canadian culture
- Western culture is very isolating – it is important to let down our walls to discover the power of community
- We all have a story worth sharing and fighting for
I learned so much simply from having conversations with young people who have grown up in very different circumstances, but still share the same passion for achieving gender equality. This trip has truly left me with an open mind, a reignited passion, and a full heart.
If you would like to support me in reaching my goal of 500 endorsements, click here to sign your name and show the Government of Canada that these issues matter to Canadians.
Thanks for joining me on my journey to change the world!