Expert of the Week   for  01 - 07 Feb 2016

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Lizz Harrison

Disaster Risk Reduction and Emergencies Advisor

Y Care International (YCI) Expertise:  Youth-led action and advocacy on community-based disaster risk reduction from remote rural communities to urban slum communities in low income countries. Technical support and training to local NGOs and CBOs on DRR, CCA and humanitarian response. Mainstreaming of disaster resilience into development. Youth engagement in global conferences/Fora. Bridging the gap between academia and NGOs.

Lizz has been managing Y Care International’s disaster risk reduction (DRR), climate change adaptation (CCA) and emergency response activities for over 4 years as the DRR and Emergencies Advisor. Lizz provides technical support directly to Y Care International’s local partners – primarily YMCAs – across the world, and has provided training around the world to YMCA staff and volunteers from more than 28 countries. Lizz advises on DRR and CCA components of wider development projects including in Nicaragua, Madagascar and Togo. She managed the organisation’s response to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and over the last few years also other emergency response and recovery programmes including in Haiti, Gaza and the Philippines. Lizz is active in the Bond DRR working group in the UK and has participated in recent international conferences such as the UN World Conference on DRR (WCDRR) in Sendai and the Global Platform for DRR in Geneva. At WCDRR, she ran an interactive session in coordination with the UN Major Group for Children and Youth at the Youth Forum. Lizz also presented at a Youth Consultation for the World Humanitarian Summit in Brussels and various events aiming to bridge the gap between academia and the NGO sector. Lizz started her career at UNICEF and after becoming involved in the ‘children in a changing climate’ work went on to do a Masters in Disasters, Adaptation and Development at King’s College London. Her research during her Masters was in collaboration with a local NGO in Gujarat, India looking at the long term impact of the 2001 earthquake on families living in poverty. Following her Masters, Lizz worked for the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre (ADPC) based in Bangkok for over two years on research, projects and communication on DRR across the Asia-Pacific region.

What role can young local volunteers play in leading on, and participating in, disaster risk reduction actions in their communities to build community disaster resilience?

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QQuestion by Mr Tulio Jose Mateo De Pena

I am curious of how you usually engage urban youth. What kind of incentives do you offer? How do you reach them effectively? How do you keep them engaged?
While working with youth is a great way to implement DRR initiatives, in places of high economic vulnerability, youth may want to see something to tangibly improve their lives I'm short term, rather than just -for instance- trainings.

Mr Tulio Jose Mateo De Pena Global Technical Advisor - Shelter and Settlements | Catholic Relief Services
United States of America

APosted on 06 Feb 2016

Hi Tulio,

Thanks for your questions.  In terms of how we engage urban youth, Y Care International are lucky that we work primarily through YMCAs, and of course the YMCA movement is the one of the oldest and largest movements for youth in the world.  The YMCA has a history of youth volunteerism and we never seem to struggle to recruit young volunteers in our activities even in the most disadvantaged areas as young people see the value of being involved in activities that will improve theirs and their communities’ lives.

The YMCAs are based on a culture of volunteering and so don’t offer volunteers salaries as we believe that those who are motivated and empowered to improve their own lives are much more likely to continue these activities even after the end of a project or funding.  Low stipends are often offered to young volunteers to cover costs such as transport to meetings or community outreach activities.  Often though, training in new skills, certificates following completion of training, meeting refreshments and a place to meet are enough incentive to get young people involved. 

We reach them through community outreach volunteer recruitment drives, e.g. putting up posters in community centres, meeting with community leaders and other stakeholders and encouraging them to share the word, asking existing youth volunteers to reach out to their peers in their communities, sharing via social media sites such as Facebook etc.  Many of the local YMCA branches are based in the communities they work in so already know community members well and have a good reputation as existing or previous volunteers will have shared their stories of involvement in volunteering.
Keeping young volunteers engaged is a matter of ensuring the activities continue to be relevant and interesting for them, and giving them to power to arrange how they will implement them and when.  Giving leadership to young people allows them to identify activities that interest them and that they think will be most effective.  It also gives them leadership and other social skills which are vital for other areas of their life.  They have the power then to fit their DRR activities into a schedule that fits with their household responsibilities, schooling, recreational time or income-earning activities.

You make a very good point that young people living in economic vulnerability often want more support than just training and this is why Y Care International’s DRR work is always run alongside, and integrated with, our employability and enterprise work.  We don’t implement standalone DRR projects; we build resilience throughout our livelihoods work.  For example, we are currently implementing a project in Haiti which is providing vulnerable youth who are out of school and out of work with vocational skills training (such as plumbing and carpentry) alongside non-formal basic education as literacy rates are low here.  Lessons on disasters, ways to reduce disaster risk, and climate change have been built into this curriculum so that young people are learning about DRR while improving their literacy.  Read about this project here.

Being aware of disaster risks and the ways to reduce them in your own community, and being part of a community group that is working together to build disaster resilience, can result in tangible improvements.  For example, members of youth-led YMCA DRR committees in Bangladesh, say that they felt a marked difference in how they coped with flooding and subsequent temporary displacement now compared to before their involvement in the committee.  Many of these young people have also helped their families to raise the foundations of their home so that when the monsoon rains come and only mild flooding occurs, their homes are not flooded.  Read about what they said here. These are tangible improvements in their lives.

Finally, please do have a look at this Y Care International article about why working with local young volunteers is so effective here.

QQuestion by Mr Alasdair Thomson

Hi Lizz,
Thanks for taking some time to answer questions. I am interested in youth engagement, so would like to ask, can youth-led community based DRR projects be successful without the involvement of young people in wider advocacy work or without their engagement with international conferences? What work have you undertaken to involve young people in these wider discussions? Thanks, Alasdair

Mr Alasdair Thomson Student | King's College London
United Kingdom

APosted on 05 Feb 2016

Hi Alasdair, thanks for your question.  It’s a really important one as the involvement of young people in advocacy and international conferences is vital to ensure the rights, needs and views of young people are considered.  It also helps to make sure programmes, initiatives and policies on DRR are relevant, youth-friendly, effective, and reach everyone.   

Y Care International have projects which support youth-led advocacy groups to urge their community leaders, and local or national governments to develop and/or implement youth-friendly policies and actions related to DRR in Nicaragua and Haiti.  We have a new Advocacy Guide for DRR which helps our local partners – YMCAs and other youth-serving organisations – to support youth advocacy groups to develop a strategy and engage with decision-makers.  You can download it here.  

We have also been involved with the Children and Youth Working Group which was very active in all of the global conferences in 2015 where new global agreements were agreed: the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction; the UN Sustainable Development Goals; and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.  Y Care International was very active in the Action2015 campaign and brought young people from across the UK together in London for ‘Light The Way’ and in Paris for ‘Camp Climate’. 

We have also been involved in supporting youth consultations ahead of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) which will bring global leaders together once again to discuss how the world will continue to respond to humanitarian emergencies.  Interestingly, respondents of the WHS online survey, answered by more than 22,500 people worldwide, voted for: Guarantee protection and education for children, and engage youth as partners in emergency preparedness and response, as the top proposal.  This really shows recognition of the crucial role of young people in DRR and emergency response

Young people’s engagement in wider advocacy work and international conferences is so important and supports community-based actions, but youth-led community-based DRR projects can still have a real impact without this engagement at the national or international level.  If young people have an increased understanding of the disaster risks they face and ways to reduce these through small-scale, low-cost actions, they can still significantly increase their resilience to disasters.  Young people can still lead activities which build disaster resilience within their community even if policies are not in place to mandate these activities.  

QQuestion by Ms Emma Lovell

Hi Lizz,
It is great to see that there is a focus on the role of young people in disaster risk reduction this week. I was wondering if you have found a difference between your engagements with young people in rural/urban DRR projects? It would be really interesting to hear about some of the challenges of working in these different contexts, as well as some of the successes you have had. Thanks!

Ms Emma Lovell Research Officer, Adaptation and Resilience | Overseas Development Institute (ODI)
United Kingdom

APosted on 05 Feb 2016

Hi Emma, another great question, thanks for asking.  To make sure our engagement with young people on DRR is relevant and effective for where they live, we frame our activities within the context of the community, whether that be urban or rural.  There often is quite a difference in the DRR activities that young people then identify as priorities for their communities as a result.

Y Care International’s engagement with young people in urban/rural areas is informed by our local partners – YMCAs and other youth-serving organisations – who already know the communities and project locations where we work well.  One of the first crucial activities we support in rural and urban areas are youth-led, community hazard, vulnerability and capacity assessments (HVCA) and mapping exercises.  Training and capacity building of our local partners and young volunteers on DRR will come before this so that they feel confident assessing hazards and risks, ensure they carry out an HVCA that is inclusive and participatory, and are able to identify actions that could reduce disaster risk in their own community based on the results.  The HVCA will be the basis for young volunteers to develop a community DRR action plan and this is where you might see the difference between urban and rural areas. 

For example, youth-led DRR activities in a remote rural community in the Philippines where we work through the YMCA, focus on water survival and first aid training as the community recognised that due to their remoteness they need to be prepared to be the first responders if a flood or typhoon occurs.  The nearest town is a 30minute drive by unpaved road which means emergency services would arrive long after community members have begun to respond to any disaster.

In Bangladesh, youth-led DRR groups in rural areas have shared practical information with their communities on how to prepare for flooding,and vital health and hygiene information to reduce illness when temporarily displaced due to floods.  See more here.   

However, young YMCA DRR volunteers living in urban slum communities in the capital of Sierra Leone, Freetown prioritised fire safety training as self-built, densely populated slums have increased risk of fires breaking out.  See more here.  They also raise awareness on good waste management to prevent residents from dumping their rubbish in the drainage channels and blocking them so that in the rainy season heavy rainfall cannot drain away which increases flood risk. 

In terms of the challenges of working in rural and urban contexts,some of these are related to the number of young people there and their ability to give their time to volunteer.  Urban areas are obviously more densely populated than rural areas and so engaging a group of young people to volunteer to build their community’s resilience to disasters has been less of a challenge than in rural areas.  Young people in rural areas are more likely to be engaged in time-intensive livelihood activities such as agricultural production and livestock rearing compared to their urban counterparts and so the amount of time they have available to volunteer is reduced.  Ensuring young women’s involvement is something which can be more of a challenge in rural and culturally-conservative areas too.  However, luckily, our YMCA partners have not struggled to recruit a great number of enthusiastic and committed young volunteers with close to equal numbers of young men and women, which is a real success of our DRR activities.

QQuestion by Mr Kevin Blanchard

Hi Lizz, great to see you on hand to answer questions on this important issue. As you know, I am interested in those groups traditionally marginalised in DRR policy making & implementation. What advice to you have for DRR / humanitarian practitioners to make sure girls, those with disabilities, LGBTIQ groups, ethnic minorities/ indigenous groups are included in schemes at at young people?

Mr Kevin Blanchard Director | DRR Dynamics
United Kingdom

APosted on 03 Feb 2016

Hi Kevin, thanks for your question, it’s a really important one.  If DRR is to be effective, it needs to reach and involve everyone at the community level including girls and boys, women and men, people with disabilities, children, elderly, LGBTIQ groups, ethnic minorities and indigenous groups as you say.  Young people can play a really active role in ensuring the participation of representatives from all of these marginalised groups in community-based DRR and make a real contribution to inclusiveness more widely through these activities. 

Firstly, the specific needs of marginalised groups needs to be considered from the very beginning of any project or programme, during the design stage.  Additional funds may need to be included in the budget, for example for local transport for the elderly or people living with disability, or for childcare for women with young children.  The location and timings of any meetings or activities should be considered to ensure they don’t exclude certain groups by being in a place that is accessible to all and at a time that doesn’t clash with household duties for example.

Secondly, DRR / humanitarian practitioners can ensure that they support young people to consider which groups of people might be particularly vulnerable, or those traditionally marginalised within their own community, by including this topic in any training, awareness raising or preliminary hazard, vulnerability and capacity assessments.  Practitioners can then support young DRR volunteers to carry out outreach activities to encourage and recruit volunteers and representatives from a diverse range of groups.  This will often mean going beyond traditional volunteer recruitment methods such as putting up posters and calling community meetings, as it’s possible marginalised groups are already excluded from, or have limited access to, these.  Targeted outreach such as door to door visits, coordinating with other NGOs or civil society groups with experience supporting marginalised groups, meetings with community leaders, talking to women’s groups, and visiting schools can be other ways to encourage participation by a diverse group of people.

In a DRR project which Y Care International supported Myanmar YMCA to implement in the Ayeyarwaddy Delta in coordination with CWS-Asia/Pacific, 14% of the local youth volunteers were people living with disability, and half were women, as a result of active outreach by the YMCA.  However, as mentioned above, we did learn through the project that more provisions need to be put in place in future projects to ensure this inclusive approach is sustained.  Unfortunately some of the volunteers who dropped out were those with disability due to challenges reaching other villages for outreach activities.  See more from our learning on this project here.  

Finally, monitoring and evaluation of any DRR project or programme needs to constantly consider who is involved and actively strive for a more inclusive approach where it is lacking.  Disaggregated data by age, sex, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, religion and other factors which affect vulnerability and marginalisation will help us all understand and report on this.

You might also find the following documents interesting here and here.