Empowering youths for sustainable economic development

Janet Awo is the founder of Peculiar Teens/Youth Development Foundation (PETFOND), based in Portharcourt. The Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree holder from Rivers State University and currently in the Nigerian Law School is a youth development, women and girls rights advocate. She was also a former director of welfare, Niger Delta Students Union Government. She spoke to IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA on her passion for youth development.

Why focus on teens and youths what is the drive?
I learnt quite early that adolescence and youth is a critical time in human development and growing up in an environment where young people are bare-faced with enormous contemporary challenges, I envisioned a platform where young people would be empowered, have access to opportunities and be beneficiaries of sustainable development. This is informed of my decision to incorporate PETFOND in 2016.

What are some of the activities you have been engaged in?
After the incorporation of PETFOND, we kicked off with a program in commemoration of International Day of the Girl Child. With self-funding and an unflinching commitment, we have collaborated with other organisations with similar objectives to host various workshops, seminars and mini projects for youths.

We initiated the ‘Project 1Girl1Pad’, a menstrual hygiene education awareness campaign in secondary schools in Rivers State. Knowing that due to the stigmatisation most girls face during their periods as they lack accurate biomedical information about menstruation, we decided to intervene with the awareness campaign in secondary schools, especially in rural areas.

We educate girls on sexual and reproductive health, the biomedical facts about menstruation and how to manage themselves during this period and distributed free Sanitary pads to the beneficiaries. We have also been advocating for menstrual equity, which entails laws and policies that take into consideration the reality that half of the world’s population has a body that does this function.

Menstrual products should be tax exempted, affordable and accessible for all and safe for our bodies and the environment, which also promotes proper menstrual education and reproductive health.

What projects are you currently working on?
We are currently mobilizing funds to launch the ‘WASH4SDGs’ project, which aims at providing Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) facilities for schools in some rural communities that Lack these basic infrastructures. This project is an offshoot of the Project ‘1Girl1Pad’.

We discovered during our awareness campaign that there is need for increased government and private sector investment in this area, as most of the schools we visited especially in the rural areas do not have safe water and toilet facilities.

The unfavourable school environment has prevented girls from managing themselves privately, safely and hygienically. This affects their wellbeing and has caused some of them to miss school during their periods. It is a major hindrance to girl’s education, which is one of our concerns, and this is why we are channelling efforts to provide these facilities to promote proper hygiene, as we are aware that safe water and sanitation are essential to human health.

Also, this falls within the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6, which is ‘Clean Water and Sanitation’; it focuses on ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

The project also aims at promoting adequate knowledge of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) among youths. The SDGs builds on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to address 17 Goals, 169 targets and 232 indicators by the year 2030. There is a need for the youths to be aware of this global agenda and work towards achieving them to build the world we want leaving no one behind.

What has been your experience working with the girl child and young people?
It has been a phenomenal experience so far; they are the most engaging and intriguing, full of exuberance, creativity and potentials. I get a lot of positive energy when we visit the schools and meet with youths. I feel a sense of fulfilment inspiring young people to reach their full potentials, it is my utmost desire to see us live our dreams and create access to a world of possibilities.

What peculiar challenges do young people face?
Young people face a myriad of challenges especially in this era of globalisation. Youth development has been sabotaged by Socio-economic, political and cultural challenges, which includes unemployment and under-employment, poverty, corruption, insecurity, substance abuse, human trafficking, technological backwardness among others.

The youths constitute a major source of human capital; they are the most socially innovative and productive. Sustainable economic development can only be achieved if the youths are adequately empowered with relevant skills, knowledge and values needed to face these challenges

What is your advice to young people and pursuing a career?
Your choice of career should be based on your passions, values and abilities.

Find a life mission and pursue it gallantly. The world is evolving and there are unconventional careers that you can explore.

Many jobs and career require additional skills asides educational qualification, get the right skillset and keep honing it. Be innovative, have an entrepreneurial mindset to solve problems and produce results.

Be diligent and work with integrity, autograph whatever you do with a touch of excellence. Build the right networks, like the saying goes ‘your network determines your net worth’. Be patient enough to be under mentorship, above all trust in God and believe in yourself.

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