Promoting Youth Voices and Community Activism in Northern Ghana: The Youth Community Journalism Approach.
The voices of young people are essential to the transformation of communities; they are invaluable resources for promoting constructive change.
This is particularly evident in the context of northern Ghana, where the extent of youth involvement in addressing injustices and engaging stakeholders and duty-bearers on community issues is a topic of concern. According to Jeffrey (2015), the constructive nature of youth voices goes beyond being beneficial; it is essential for the very fabric of community building. However, despite the inherent value of youth voices, there is a significant exclusion of youth from decision-making processes and community development initiatives. This exclusion can be attributed to various factors, including cultural, systemic, and structural barriers.
The consequence is a palpable information gap between the youth and the adult-led society, as well as misinformation/fake news, exacerbating the challenges faced by young people in their efforts to contribute meaningfully to community transformation. As youth grapple with exclusion, they also need to address the crisis of misinformation/fake news and close the information gap between themselves and the adult-led society. Ghana has 8.2 million social media users and 15.7 million internet users (Digital, 2022). This indicates how susceptible young people are to the rapid spread of fake/misinformation.
The Youth Speak up Model
To address this, empowering youth with skills to generate, analyze, and engage with information is crucial. Thus, the Youth Speak Up initiative, under the Empowerment for Life Program and the Citizens Led Educational Accountability and Responsiveness in Ghana implemented by YEFL-Ghana and its partners, adopts a community journalism approach, training youth as community journalists (CJs). The Youth Speak Up model prepares young people to become community journalists (CJs) by equipping them with the requisite tools to communicate effectively on radio, print, and social media, as well as the knowledge and abilities to collect, report on, evaluate, and share pertinent news and information with the public. By giving them these tools, we empower them to take charge of their narratives and influence public discourse. This is accomplished through working with local and community radio stations, which gives young people a platform to voice their opinions.
Benefits of the Community Journalism Approach
Ball (Ball-Rokeach et al., 2001) advocated for engaging young people in journalism, which has proven to be a catalyst for instilling a sense of voice, efficacy, and community belonging. This is what the Youth Speak Up approach firmly aligns with.
The Youth Speak Up approach is instrumental in building youth confidence and consciousness as they negotiate their own development. Community journalists actively engage with local issues on radio, discussing topics such as tax payment, infrastructure development, education access and delivery, revenue generation, and utilization. The radio and community journalism approach does not only amplify youth voices but also fosters dialogue with local authorities, resulting in increased responsiveness from district-level actors.
Additionally, collaboration with local media houses (numbering a total of 10 radio stations) under the Youth Speak Up initiative further amplifies youth voices, providing them with platforms and tools to articulate their perspectives. This collaboration has been observed to validate the voices of youth, turning them into local "celebrities" and increasing their social value within their communities, while also championing local ownership of those community and local-level initiatives. The impact is not only evident in increased revenue for communities but also in the level of accountability achieved, as revenue and budget officers appreciate the support and advocacy provided by youth community journalists.
Youth Voice in Community Development
The Youth Speak Up initiative deliberately mobilizes youth, capacitating them to engage in community development. By providing the youth not only with engagement techniques but also leadership knowledge and experience, the initiative ensures their consequential involvement in issues that matter to them. This approach aligns with the notion that engaging youth during their formative years fosters lifelong identities as active, responsible, and ethical participants, thereby enhancing civil society (Levine, 2007).
Impact in Scope
Youth community journalists, spanning 11 districts, have raised issues of national interest, gaining attention at the national level. They use radio and social media to bridge information gaps in education, contributing to educational accountability and transparency. The initiative has demonstrated its effectiveness as an inclusion platform for youth, including young girls. Youth Community Journalists have successfully mobilized teaching and learning resources for deprived schools, making a tangible impact on education.
In conclusion, the Youth Speak Up initiative is a beacon of hope for the Northern Ghanaian youth, empowering them to be active contributors to their communities. By leveraging on community journalism, this initiative not only addresses the information gap but also enhances youth voices, fostering positive community transformation. The ripple effects of this approach are evident in improved accountability, increased community revenue, and the meaningful inclusion of youth in local development processes.
By Alhassan Abdul-Ganiyu
Technical Advisor- Youth, Advocacy and Gender- YEFLGHANA