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Empowering Young People as Promoters (RR)

Author/Compiled by
Fabiola Garduño (Sarar Transformación SC)
Ron Sawyer (Sarar Transformación SC)
Ivan Sawyer (Sarar Transformación SC)
Executive Summary

Empowering young people as promoters in the field of water and sanitation is a way of assuring that a project or programme has a greater effect and more long lasting impact on the communities. When trying to find solutions to water contamination and ways to improve access to water and sanitation in any given community, it is essential that youth become involved, so they themselves can work together in an organised fashion to identify appropriate solutions to the problems, and then take ownership” of the measures to apply those solutions. There are many tools that can be applied in order to involve youth in social or environmental action. This can help raise their self-esteem and also encourage other youth to take similar actions.

Youth create appealing campaigns
Youth are prepared to work as volunteers
Opportunities to develop technical and communication skills
Attraction to green technologies
Easily mobilized
Cooperative learning
Teamwork strategies
Youth lack work experience
Youth can sometimes be easily distracted
Youth can sometimes lack seriousness
Youth require more supervision and support
Youth do not have much respect for older people
When coming from poor families, they have financial demands

Why Involve Youth?

Young people need opportunities to develop skills, and when adequately directed can easily and effectively support organisational work without a lot of experience. Environmental programmes should try to involve young people as promoters basically because they have a lot of extra time and energy — and are tremendously creative. In this media age, young people have access to tremendous amounts of information that can sometimes be overwhelming (using internet based social networks, for example), but they really do not know what to do with all of it.

Making the Change

Young people are prepared to take risks in confronting conventional structures. They are a sector of society that will be able to assure sustainability. Precisely because they are inheriting a world, they know that the world is complicated and it will affect them. Indeed, young people are often more sensitive and intuitive than many adults, which can give them and almost instinctive sense of what will work or not and where a program should be directed.

 “One way to make sure change lasts is to work with young people, because they will take what they learn into the future. Each of us, no matter what age we are, can adopt the attitude of a young person to always be willing to learn and try new things” (CONANT et al. 2008).

Barriers and Challenges to Involving Youth

 Youth working to protect Mangroves in Thailand. Source: ANDAMAN DISCOVERIES (2010):

Youth working to protect mangroves in Thailand and youth awareness campaign in India. Source: ANDAMAN DISCOVERIES (2010); SHIMRAY (2010) 

If and when youth do want to get involved in social and environmental programmes and movements, the traditional leaders and decision makers are frequently threatened by them and prefer not to involve them in their plans. Although this resistance is partly due to a lack of tools on how to involve them, it is frequently also due to a basic lack of understanding. Adults treat youth as adults — which they are not! — so their methods to involve them tend to fail; thus making it more likely that the programme strategies and activities will not be accepted by the youth.

Skills Needed by Youth to Promote Water and Sanitation Issues

To prepare young participants for advocacy requires awareness building, training, and skills transfer from specialists in a number of key areas including:


Tools Commonly Used by Youth to Promote Water and Sanitation

Important tools used by youth to promote water-related issues include: door-to-door campaigns, water forums and brigades, school environmental groups, art contests, online and printed publications, educational radio and theatre shows, concerts, amongst others. Other information tools provide support on how they let other people know what their accomplishments are. This includes how they choose to generate their messages, and allowing them to be protagonists of change amongst school and community authorities.

Facts to Consider

Young people are empowered by knowing that they have the capacity to influence change, i.e., if they can see what they achieve. In the case of water quality, for example, it is useful for them to identify that their actions can directly influence the quality of water that they consume, e.g. by measuring the water quality or researching improvements in health or biodiversity. Therefore, any action plan to deal with the prioritised and analysed issue should be geared towards attaining small, reachable goals. An attitude of not pointing out errors, but rather finding more about the goal they set in their action plan, is a way of promoting the change they want to see.

Youth Projects and Programmes

By forming or joining existing youth networks, as well as maintaining contact, young people are also empowered. But when at a teenage stage, and if coming from needy or poor communities, they may have a demand on them to contribute to the family economy. Committed youth groups can begin to break down under external life pressures, including both economic and family demands. Romantic involvement and pregnancy can have a heavy toll on the best of intentions. This is why it is important to think through and put in place strategies for maintaining the involvement of motivated youth over the long haul. For example, considering introducing small stipends for the more mature and experienced youth, as a transition from purely voluntary work; access to training, stimulus attached to internet and media, and certification can also be important incentives.


Cultivating an understanding of global perspectives and of international development issues is of special relevance to any environmental youth educational program. It is the young people that day to day play a more transcendental role in any country’s economic, political, cultural, academic and social activities. By allowing them to take ownership of different means of expression, and in as much as they receive support from different civil and governmental groups, they will be influential in supporting the sustainability agenda (KURI et al. 2006).


The nature of water awareness programmes in schools and universities is to directly expose youth to problems that the underserved populations are facing, and what governance issues play into the picture. These educational programmes can help promote serious reflection and discussion on issues such as water depletion, wastage and pollution, degradation, water related conflicts, and recent moves to privatise water.

For example, watershed monitoring, connecting schools upstream and downstream and information sharing and networking each other, is a great way to observe the impact of their settlement at a bioregional perspective. Community youth programmes often like to get involved in cleaning and protecting of the communities’ water source through different collective eco-restoration actions.

Through these types of activities, youth can gain awareness about the growing urgency of issues related to water both locally and globally. So not only can environmental educational programmes help highlight the magnitude of the problem, but also bring all stakeholders together to apply solutions that work. Today’s young people are those that take tomorrow’s decisions - their involvement in today’s problems are thus crucial!

Library references

A Community Guide to Environmental Health

A comprehensive Guidebook to Environmental Health that helps promoters, development workers, educators, activists and community leaders take charge of their communities´ environmental health. Published by Hersperian Foundation the editors of the rural health bible “Where there is no Doctor”

CONANT, J. ; FADEM, P. ; (2008): Berkeley, CA: Hesperian Foundation URL [Accessed: 15.11.2011]

Youth Act

ANDAMAN DISCOVERIES (2010): Kura: Andaman Discoveries URL [Accessed: 19.03.2012]
Further Readings

A Community Guide to Environmental Health

A comprehensive Guidebook to Environmental Health that helps promoters, development workers, educators, activists and community leaders take charge of their communities´ environmental health. Published by Hersperian Foundation the editors of the rural health bible “Where there is no Doctor”

CONANT, J. ; FADEM, P. ; (2008): Berkeley, CA: Hesperian Foundation URL [Accessed: 15.11.2011]

Ideas for Water Awareness Campaigns

This document includes a section for advocacy, presenting an overview of many ideas and initiatives with emphasis on practical suggestions and clues. It is not a guidebook for planning your advocacy work but it might be a great knowledge source and starting point for your activities.

SCHAAP, W. ; STEENBERGEN, F. van ; (2001): Stockholm: The Global Water Partnership URL [Accessed: 17.04.2012]
Case Studies
Training Material

How to Organize a Youth Water Congress

Document prepared by the International Youth Water Network based on their experience organizing Youth Water Congresses. Contains very useful water links and fact sheets.

BIEDLER, M. ; CAWENBERGE, J. van ; VEKEN, D. van der ; (2004): Belgium: KOGEKA & GREEN

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