‘The I-SING programme provides hope for the future of young Nigerians’ was the core message expressed by adolescents during the recent “Reaching Adolescents in Emergencies: Getting it Right When It Matters Most” summit, organised by Mercy Corps in Abuja. Held on 14 and 15 November, the gathering of Nigerian adolescents, local and international non-governmental organisations, civil society organisations, donors, senior government officials, set out cutting-edge approaches to effectively reaching adolescents in crisis contexts such as Northeast Nigeria.
Over the last two years, Mercy Corps’ Investing in the Safety and Integrity of Nigerian Girls (I-SING) programme, made possible with funding from the European Union Trust Fund for Africa, has equipped over 17,000 adolescents with skills and support to improve their incomes; provided access to basic social services such as nutrition and basic education; and created spaces for them to feel safe in their own communities. Building on the success of this intervention, the ‘Reaching Adolescents in Emergencies’ summit ensures that Mercy Corps and the European Union continue to drive innovative thinking around the well-being of adolescents in fragile environments.
In his opening address, The European Union Ambassador to Nigeria, Ketil Karlsen, set the scene. Karlsen highlighted that, making up 22% of Nigeria’s population, adolescents have great energy and potential to contribute to the resilience of their communities. However, he also noted that that they urgently need opportunities to build livelihoods, and enabling environment that supports their safety and human rights.
Drawing on techniques that have been core to I-SING’s success, the “Reaching Adolescents in Emergencies” summit celebrated the voices and stories of the adolescents impacted by the I-SING programme, who used drama, poems and songs to drive home their key messages. Especially moving was a video which told the story of an I-SING beneficiary, Suwaiba Yakubu Adam, who had taken the skills she learned on the I-SING programme and started her own safe space for young women in her community. “[I’ve been] raised in an environment where... young girls have to stay indoors to be safe; with relatively no clarity on what the future holds for them. I’ve been empowered by the ISING programme with knowledge that boosted my self-confidence; I’m responsible; and will continue to influence my community as a model and mentor for girls”, she said.
Mercy Corps’ I-SING team also shared their learnings from implementing the programme. Peer agencies including Save the Children, Plan International, IRC and UNICEF presented their complimentary approaches and research. Representatives from Nigeria’s Federal and State Ministries of Women’s Affairs also spoke on the important role of partnerships between the government and civil society to increase the sustainability of programming and opportunities to support adolescent well-being.
“The adolescents who attended the Reaching Adolescents in Emergencies summit were absolutely amazing,” said Darius Radcliffe, Country Director for Mercy Corps Nigeria. “Already at the center of programme design under I-SING, they were the strongest voice during the Summit and made it very clear why it is so critical to reach and integrate adolescents into emergency or post-emergency programming. We’re looking forward to incorporating the learnings from this event in to our model for reaching adolescents in emergencies.”