In a June 1 meeting hosted by the Environmental Change and Security Project, Roger-Mark De Souza of the Population Reference Bureau and Naida Pasion and David Oot of Save the Children discussed their new partnership project for adolescents in the Philippines.
The project seeks to tie together the issues of population growth, reproductive health for the youth, and environmental conservation by working with local communities and adolescents. The Philippines were picked for this project because of its rapid population growth, high teen pregnancy rate, and environmental degradation. The project focuses on the coastline, the second longest in Asia, where higher than average population growth is pressuring natural resources like mangroves and coral reefs. Working with different stakeholders and sectors in the community requires a great deal of flexibility, said De Souza: "There isn't a cookie cutter approach, we need to think about local circumstances."
According to Pasion, this project does not merely target adolescents, but incorporates them into its design and operation. "We need to see youth as a major part of the solution," she said. "We need to see that youth is not wasted on the young." The project uses peer facilitators and teen theater groups to spread messages about sexual health and the environment, and organizes mangrove reforestation, coastal clean-up, and protected area monitoring projects for youth.
In one of its the major accomplishments, the project convinced local health providers to target care to youth, and they are now trying to design separate youth health centers. To overcome the stigma attached to visiting health centers, the project incorporates youth in the centers' construction and design. "The whole effort is to involve them every step of the way…in how the actual operations will be done," said Pasion. Many health care providers in the region have been open to making changes, and in a few years the number willing to offer youth-specific care has increased from under ten percent to over ninety.
Another important move has been getting a "super-star mayor" involved in the project. "There's a certain amount of prestige" to be gained from working on an original project like this, said De Souza, and certain officials have received a lot of public attention for being trendsetters. The project needs government support to develop an "official policy framework that allows program staff and decentralized decision-makers" in the Philippines. Connecting poverty, population, and the environment has been a successful tactic for engaging local governments and officials in the project. As Pasion said, "if we have a vision of reducing poverty by 2013, we can't do that if we don't look at the young people."
In the future, Save the Children and the Population Reference Bureau hope to scale up their efforts in the Philippines. They are educating other NGOs in the area about the importance of incorporating population into environmental conservation projects. De Souza concluded that the government and local communities are beginning to realize "the important role that adolescents fill, both in sexual health and in environmental conservation."