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Providing Safe Spaces for Youth to Grow

Kenyans have hopes and dreams for the future; for its children, neighbouring countries, and the global community. These aspirations rest on the shoulders of the youngest generation. August 12, 2018 marks the 18th celebration of the U.N.’s annual International Youth Day with this year’s theme being ‘Safe Spaces for Youth’. This awareness day is a unique opportunity to reflect on youth’s challenges and to celebrate and support the world’s future leaders.

The features of settings where young people spend their time have been found to decisively impact on a young person’s development. The provision of a safe space is thus an essential component of effective community youth programs in health promotion that aim to enhance positive youth development. Peer programs such as the ones run by the Alfred Polo Foundation aim to create a safe, supportive and experiential learning environment for youth.

However, the concept of a safe space can mean different things for youth:

  • For young people lacking social skills, a safe space is somewhere they can learn and practice new skills and receive constructive feedback.
  • For young people who may be subject to bullying, abuse, harassment or negative and unsupportive peer and adult influences, a safe space equates to a type of refuge where they can be assured of physical and psychological safety.
  • For young people who are fearful of accessing mainstream support services, e.g. a school counselor, a safe space is somewhere they can access information and support without fear of being judged or having to face the consequences of disclosure. This fear may be based on their own or others’ negative experiences or inaccurate perceptions and beliefs of what they may encounter.

Safe Spaces include community dialogues, local meetings, workshops, and any forum for expanding viewpoints and encouraging vocalization. These settings both stimulate civic engagement and provide feedback to authorities. For Kenya, some of these opportunities have arisen from recent reforms attempting to resolve the same issues youth identified. One such initiative is devolution, increasing regional and local authority, affording more chances for community and youth engagement.

These kinds of improvements, along with methods such as participatory development – the identification and implementation of projects that directly address community identified needs – enable youth to be empowered. Youth benefit from remaining involved, active, and vocal in their communities, and in turn, governance systems can better support youth.

The celebration and promulgation of Safe Spaces for youth in Kenya and beyond is crucial in supporting what the world needs to ensure flourishing future generations.