By: Caitlin Chandler
Sara is one of Torchlight’s most active members. She’s been an advocate for sexual and reproductive health and rights for nearly a decade, with experience at organizations like Women Deliver and International Planned Parenthood Federation / Western Hemisphere Region. As a consultant for The Torchlight Collective, she specializes in program design and implementation aimed at advancing the health and rights of young people, and also supports Torchlight’s external communications.
CC: What drew you to become a member of the Torchlight Collective?
SP: I had spent almost five years working with youth advocates. During my time working on the Women Deliver Young Leaders Program, I built the capacity of individual youth advocates through technical training, advocacy opportunities, and seed grant funding. And that’s important! But I was really interested in how Torchlight focused on movement building and support to youth coalitions. After we support young people to build their capacity, what’s next? How do they take those skills to actually create change? And I had worked with Lindsay before and was excited about joining her team again!
CC: You've done diverse work with TC, including most recently spearheading some of TC's external comms. Why is it important for TC to communicate its work to the world?
SP: I have been lucky to work on several different projects with Torchlight. I have worked on a couple toolkits - one that focused on what works (and doesn’t work!) for adolescent health programs in urban Nigeria and one that provided training on mitigating the harm of the Global Gag Rule. I've worked with foundations focused on bolstering youth-led advocacy and meaningful engagement, which has included support for the Kenya Adolescent and Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Network.
I have also supported some communications projects, including the #YoungWomenSay Campaign and Torchlight’s overall external communications. It has been a great experience to work on a variety of initiatives and learn more about how different organizations and donors work, and how they reinforce each other’s work. For example, I worked with Christine from KAYSRHR on writing a blog for the #YoungWomenSay Campaign. Later, I had the opportunity to work with her again on the #ICFPRelay. Both projects gave her an outlet to share her story and advocate for greater youth engagement, just through different channels and to different audiences.
In terms of external communications, it has been a pleasure to elevate the great work that young people are doing on issues they care about. I am really happy that Torchlight’s external communications strategy allows us to focus on sharing and promoting the work being done on the ground by youth advocates and our partners.
CC: Prior to joining TC, you had a long history of supporting youth SRHR including running a young leaders program. What lessons did you learn from that experience that you now apply to your work?
The people in power (usually) have no desire to give up or share control. You can find so many examples of young people claiming their space - the Civil Rights Movement, the Arab Spring, Black Lives Matter, the March for Our Lives movement, and so on. As a supporter of youth movements, it is my job to equip young people with the tools they need to disrupt the status quo and claim the space they deserve. Often, they are the majority of the population and the group with the biggest chunk of their futures at stake. Why shouldn’t they have a bigger say?
CC: What do you know now that you wish you'd known when you started out as a youth advocate?
I wish I had realized how deep the expertise and comradery is in the youth advocacy world, and taken advantage of it more. There is something really unique about working with a group of smart, hardworking people who are all around your age. There isn’t the hierarchy that exists in a lot of other places and jobs - and that provides a great opportunity to learn from each other.
CC: What exciting developments are on the horizon in the youth SRHR landscape? What are you looking forward to in the next year or two?
SP: Just a few years ago, it was a battle to get an event organizer to include a youth advocate on a panel about young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health services. Now, many organizations and donors know that that isn’t acceptable.
I think the next step is ensuring that young people have the opportunity to be more than talking heads. We know young people are experts in their own experiences - they can tell you what’s happening in their own communities. But they are also program officers, clinic managers, doctors, teachers, lawyers. They can help design intervention strategies, manage project activities and monitor the outcomes.
Young people are only becoming more aware of their power and the important role they have to play in all aspects of a project, from beginning to end. I think in the next couple years, more and more young people will demand to have input in decision-making process, program planning and funding priorities. I am looking forward to seeing some of these youth advocates become the boss and make space for a new wave of youth activism!