Rising Up for Youth

In July 2019, Rise Up brought together 22 young leaders from Ethiopia, India, Pakistan, Rwanda, Mississippi, and Louisiana here in the San Francisco Bay Area to strengthen their leadership, build capacity, and launch game-changing initiatives to advance sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice (SRHRJ) for young people in their communities. As Rise Up’s third cohort of Youth Champions, this diverse and talented group graduated from an intensive week-long Incubator, equipped with a new network, tools, and resources to design their own SRHRJ solutions for the next generation.

Read on for their reflections on this experience and keep an eye out for updates on these incredible Youth Champions and their impacts. 

Mahlet Alemayehu, Ethiopia

Mahlet, a medical doctor and passionate advocate for women’s health, provides free medical service to underprivileged girls and women and advises on the design of a mobile application for family planning.

Mahlet (second from right, bottom) poses for a photo with fellow Rise Up Youth Champions

“My favorite part of the Youth Champions Initiative Incubator was the innovation and diversity. It helped me to have a global view and understanding of sexual and reproductive health and rights. I now have the network, friendships and support system that I need to advance my work.”

Ehsam Ullah Baig, Pakistan

Ehsam, the founder and CEO of Pakistan Innovation Summit for Education, is working to shift the focus of Pakistan’s public health education to include family planning and education on abortion.

Youth Champion Ehsam during the Incubator

“My favorite part of YCI was the overall environment that was full of learning, passion, energy, and love.”

Ashley Sheffield, United States

Ashley works at the Feminist Majority Foundation in Louisiana and is committed to improving sexual and reproductive health and rights and policy-making.

Ashley (left) with fellow Youth Champion Berky

“I grew the most through the conversations with everyone, sharing our experiences, and comparing organizing tactics. All of the Youth Champions were so welcoming and friendly, by the end of the Incubator we became a family.”

Rise Up Youth Champions presenting to an audience at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation

“Being around so many passionate people who dedicate their lives to improving sexual and reproductive health was so inspiring. The fact that I am part of an international movement working to improve SRHRJ motivates me to continue advocating in my community for the advancement of reproductive rights.”

Japleen Pasricha, India

Japleen is the founder & editor-in-chief of Feminism in India, an award-winning digital feminist media platform.

Japleen (second from left) and fellow Youth Champions visit the Google Community Space in San Francisco

“[The training] made me realize how I have to manage difficult situations as a leader with my team, donors, and the community.”

Edith Romero, United States

Edith works for Luke’s House Clinic in Louisiana and firmly believes that sexual and reproductive health is deeply intertwined with women’s rights and well-being.

Edith (second from left) with fellow Youth Champions

“One important thing I will take home from this experience are communication tools … that will strengthen my leadership and public speaking skills to garner support for the needs of my community.”

Suyash Khubchandani, India

Suyash cofounded India Safe Abortion Youth Advocates, a network of medical students working to promote women’s right to safe abortion, and is working to establish an increasingly broader network of gender-aware young doctors.

Suyash (third from left) poses for a selfie with fellow Youth Champions Jitender, Mahlet, and Berky

“Not often do we get to spend 7 days with people we’d literally never met before, and by the end of the week – you still feel like there was so much left to do with them…Every single day – we’d learn so much from each other; like a daily dose of inspiration reminding us why we do what we do.”

Suyash explores San Francisco with a group of Youth Champions

“…There was so much that was new to us – whether it was the proposal writing, design thinking, or even getting through a good speech – and yet it wasn’t something so heavy to digest in a short span. It was a perfect blend of knowledge, trust building, and time to breathe it in. And the trust part of it is something I’d like to take back home – to know that once you trust someone to be honest and open, often means there’s a lot to gain.”

Sarmad Muhammad Soomar, Pakistan

Sarmad, a licensed registered nurse, is passionate about integrating human sexuality into healthcare curriculum and inclusion and justice in sexual health and rights.

Sarmad, left, and  fellow Youth Champions pose in front of Lyric, a center for LGBTQQ youth in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood

“As young advocates we can support the choices of individuals we work with and we continue to encourage them to feel best about themselves and their bodies.”

Bersabeh Mekasha, Ethiopia

Bersabeh is a doctor who is passionate about shaping the next generation to build stronger communities.

Bersabeh, right, with fellow Youth Champion Yidnekachew

“My favorite part of the Youth Champions Initiative Incubator was connecting with people from different parts of the world, learning about the different challenges that we face and everyone’s commitment to persistently challenge the status quo.”

Jitender Naryanan Bhardwaj, India 

Jitender is a peer educator and facilitator dedicated to shifting the narrative around LGBTQ+ community health, gender, and masculinity.

Youth Champion Jitender at Lyric Center for LGBTQQ Health 

“We learned during our site visits and through  general discussions around different country-based contexts how young leaders are working tirelessly to bring information and access to sexual and reproductive health services to youth despite socio-economic, religious, caste, class, and political barriers. They continue their work by not competing with each other, rather by aligning with other young leaders in their communities. United, they all stand against the patriarchal norms of society.”

Qaisar Roonjha, Pakistan

Qaisar is the founder and director of the Welfare Association for New Generation (WANG), a youth-led organization focused on engaging youth in community organizing.

Qaisar participating in a workshop on public speaking during the Incubator

“One important thing I will take home from this experience is HOPE. When I see these young people energetic and committed for a better tomorrow, I see a bright future.”

Youth Champions with Rise Up staff at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation