The power of youth engagement

Kjersti Kleine visiting Save the Children's Kentucky office

by Kjersti Kleine


The one-year-old boy gripped the ballpoint pen and scribbled marks on a blank sheet of computer paper as five adults sat around him smiling. The Save the Children home visitor handed the boy’s mother a handwriting chart and explained what a child’s handwriting should look like at 18 months, 24 months, and older. The mother was so excited about saving the child’s artwork so she could compare her son’s ability to use writing utensils as he developed.

Initiatives like the Save the Children program in Kentucky confirm the importance of empowering mothers and communities to support young children in reaching developmental milestones. We can all play a role in achieving this.

While I’m passionate about advocacy now, I wasn’t always this way. I began learning about advocacy and political involvement when I was 19 years old. My only wish is that I had been exposed to the world of advocacy earlier, so that I could have started making an impact sooner.

I knew I was interested in health and education, but I didn’t understand how or why politics related to the things I cared about. As I learn more about the world and its challenges, I’ve realized that advocacy is an important component of engaging with a community or a cause. To ensure every child has the opportunity to achieve developmental milestones and reach their full potential, advocacy in necessary. Those of us that have the opportunity to have a voice have a responsibility to be advocates. This includes youth.

More than 50% of the world’s population is under the age of 30 (UNESCO). These young people are the next generation’s leaders, politicians, doctors, business owners, and advocates. Empowering young people to play a role in political conversations and advocacy is a crucial strategy to engage the future generation in collaboration, innovation, and success, especially when the people they are representing are children too.

I recently had the opportunity to visit Save the Children’s programs in rural Kentucky where I met the one-year-old boy and his dedicated mother.

Afterwards, I attended the organization’s Member’s Meeting in New York City, where leaders from Save the Children programs around the world gathered to discuss missions, goals, and plans for the organization. Youth representatives from Italy, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Mexico, and the United States had the unique opportunity to gather to discuss the potential of youth to make a difference.

Youth leaders in New York City at the 2016 Save the Children Member's Meeting.

Youth leaders in New York City at the 2016 Save the Children Member’s Meeting.

Hearing about the incredible work young leaders around the world are doing to advocate for children was inspirational to say the least. Many young leaders have devoted their entire lives to inspiring and engaging youth to play an important role in service, advocacy, education, and politics.

To all of the young people around the world playing a role in advocacy: keep doing what you’re doing. Your work is so important, and we need to continue using our voices when we can. Educate and engage your peers so they can use their voices, too.

To adult advocates and community members: don’t ever miss an opportunity to inspire and empower the children and youth in your lives and communities. I have met so many young people who are immensely passionate about children’s rights issues, but they simply don’t know how best to allocate their efforts. Empowering youth will help us grow our network so that more people in more places can be the voices for children who are in desperate need of representation and positive change. Youth engagement in advocacy is necessary so that every child can benefit from early childhood health and education programs.


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Kjersti Kleine is a rising senior Health Science major and Poverty Studies minor at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. She is a Student Ambassador for Save the Children Action Network, and began advocating for children with Save the Children Action Network in early 2015. Kjersti is pursuing a career in Public Health and Global Health Policy. She is particularly passionate about maternal and child health.