The SHE SOARS (Sexual and reproductive Health and Economic empowerment Supporting Out-of-school Adolescent girls’ Rights and Skills) project is a youth-led project taking place in Kenya, Uganda, and Zambia. CARE Canada is working alongside partners, health care providers, governments, and communities to improve health services, provide accessible information, and address root causes of gender-based inequalities. A primary focus of the project is to engage with young people, particularly young women and girls, to increase their decision-making ability about their lives and their bodies.
To celebrate youth leadership in the SHE SOARS project, the Youth Public Engagement Champions (YPEC) in Canada spoke with Faith Kaoma, a member of the Youth Advisory Board (YAB). YAB are young leaders in the three countries where SHE SOARS works, who advise on the project locally. Faith’s journey as a Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) activist in Zambia began at the age of 15, when she volunteered at a local Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) clinic. This experience sparked a passion for community work. Fast forward a few years, and in her second year of university, Faith co-founded her own organization at the age of 19 to take on various SRHR issues within her community.
The organization is called Copper Rose, which is deeply symbolic. The importance of copper mining in the Zambian economy, paired with the beauty and feminine nature of a rose, was chosen to remind women they are valuable and beautiful. Copper Rose focuses on HIV prevention, SRHR, youth leadership, mentorship, and maternal health. It is now a multi-million dollar organization and one of the biggest youth-led organizations in Zambia. Faith continues to serve as Chief Operations Officer, leading the strategic vision of the organization and the team of 40+ staff and over 500 volunteers.
Faith was initially approached to be part of the selection committee of SHE SOARS to recruit other YAB members. The committee soon realized that she herself would be a great fit for the YAB based on her inspiring and impressive experience. Faith says that the YAB has helped her to develop skills related to becoming a transformative leader. She says, “When you’re doing advocacy, you’re holding people accountable…Sometimes you’re working with organizations that are not used to having youth tell them what to do. It’s been a journey.”
“If you are not going to bring young people to the table, we will come with our own foldable chairs and inform and influence decision-making at the table.”
– Faith Kaoma
Faith encourages people who are designing projects for young people to consider having youth advisors to help transform project dynamics and create a more locally based leadership structure. She adds, “If you are not going to bring young people to the table, we will come with our own foldable chairs and inform and influence decision-making at the table.”
Faith also highlights the importance of being authentic as a woman in a leadership position. “It’s knowing and appreciating the skills I bring to the table and appreciating that I have valuable ideas. I just came off a huge episode of imposter syndrome, and I am learning that imposter syndrome is a phenomenon, and it comes, and it goes, so I am just being more authentic in my style of leadership and my ideas.”
Faith’s advice to other women and girls who want to become advocates: “I think we’re always waiting for the right time, but the perfect time is actually now. So if you have an idea, an urge, something that’s making you feel that itch to want to do something about it, just listen to it and trust in it, and the next thing you know you might be sitting on a million dollar idea that can take you so many places and improve the lives of other people and communities…Own it, continue to show up as her, and listen to the small voices in [your] head telling [you] to do something about the injustices in the world today.”