“There are still certain sensitive topics that still present an issue when trying to bring it forward in certain spaces."
Christan Levene is committed to helping develop young people as advocates for change. Levene, 26, joined the Jamaica Family Planning Association (JFPA) Youth Advocacy Movement (YAM) in 2017 by virtue of being employed by the Association with YAM duties forming part of the job’s terms of reference.
Levene, now the executive assistant and youth officer with the Association based at the administrative headquarters at the Lenworth Jacobs Clinic YAM complements each other in terms of helping to foster the transitioning and development of youth into -confident adults.
“FAMPLAN provides the space or capacity for young people who they engage on a regular basis to grow — whether through outreach, rap sessions, educational sessions. The organization provides them with an opportunity to grow and build their capacity as it relates to advocating for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) amongst their other peers,” she said.
Though Levene is no longer a member of the group, she remains connected to YAM and ensures she leads by example.
“When you have young adults who are part of the organization, who lobby and advocate for the rights of other adults like themselves, then, on the other hand, you are going to have young people like Mario, Candice, and Fiona who advocate for people within their age cohort,” she said.
She added, “Transitioning out of the group and working alongside these young folks, I feel as if I can still share some of the realities they share, have one-on-one conversations with them, help them along their journey and also help myself as well, because social connectedness is an important part of your mental health. This group is very, very, very dear to me.”
With regards to its impact on her life, Levene said YAM helped her to become more of an extrovert and shaped her confidence.
“I was more of an introvert and now I can get up (and) do a wide presentation and engage other people without feeling like I do not have the capacity or expertise to bring across certain issues,” she said.
However, Levene shared that there is still a lot of sensitivity around SRHR topics, which limits the conversations YAM is able to have and at times may generate fear among some of the group members.
“There are still certain sensitive topics that still present an issue when trying to bring it forward in certain spaces. Other challenges they [YAM members] may face are personal reservations. Although we provide them with the skillset, certain persons are still more reserved and are not able to be engaging in certain spaces. Sometimes they just want to stay in the back and issue flyers or something behind the scenes rather than being upfront,” she said.
But as the main aim of the movement is to develop advocates out of members, Levene’s conviction is helping to strengthen YAMs capacity in this regard.
“To advocate you must be able to get up, stand up and speak for the persons who we classify as the voiceless or persons who are vulnerable and marginalised. I think that is one of the limitations as well… Going out and doing an HIV test and having counselling is OK, but as it relates to really standing up and advocating, being able to write a piece and send it to Parliament, being able to make certain submissions like editorial pieces. That needs to be strengthened,” Levene said.