Cairo, 8 February , AMR ABDULRAHMAN

today marks the closing of Ministry of Youth and Sports, and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)’s campaign “Crossing Egypt Challenge”. The campaign aimed at raising awareness on Egypt’s population growth. The closing event is hosted by Ministry of Youth and Sports andorganized to commemorate the Egyptian Youth Day on the 9th of February and for welcoming the runners after they concluded their 938km awareness challenge. The event will take place in Gezira Youth Center, and it will include recreational games and activities for youth, theater performance by Y-PEER and closing remarks by UNFPA Representative.

A long fruitful on foot journey of 24 days and 938.3 KM from Aswan to Cairo by four ambitious young athletes who walked and ran this distance while engaging in discussion with youth of Egypt on challenges and solutions for increased population growth, importance of family planning, youth participation, combating all harmful practices against girls of female genital mutilation and early marriage in the cities and villages along the Nile. Young female and male athletes and youth have been driven by the notion that impossible is not an option, and population growth challenge in Egypt can be addressed when citizens become well informed and can decide on their reproductive health, their preferred family size and act to combat all forms of violence against girls. The four young athletes were warmly greeted by the governorates residents, especially in Suhag and Assiut, where most of the youth centers welcomed them on route with a parade celebrating their passing by Beni Suef was organized commemorating the day for Zero Tolerance against FGM.

“Crossing Egypt Challenge” campaign is not the last nationwide campaign tapping on youth leadership to promote population growth awareness, it’s just the beginning of a series of nationwide campaigns. The United Nations Population Fund in Egypt have successfully launched the “Youth Population Awareness Bus”, that took 90 young leaders on board and interacted with 2500 young people in 9 governorates throughout 10 days to raise awareness on population growth in August 2017. Given the community engagement on such campaigns, after Crossing Egypt challenge, UNFPA will launch another round of the “Youth Population Awareness Bus” in the upcoming period, UNFPA places young people at the center of population awareness using creative techniques such as: Drama, theater, edutainment and sports like this initiative. These campaigns harness the power of the 62 percent of Egypt’s population that is below the age of 29, given that Egypt is reaching the peak of the “youth bulge”, the largest cohort of young people in its history.

For the four young men and women leading the campaign, population growth and its associated challenging norms are problems they recognize yet they rarely encountered themselves in this social network. During the journey while addressing people and promoting the campaign objectives, they came across the father who was going to take his daughter to be cut the next day, the young student who was going to get married to his relative who is still 16 years old and the young father of four children who is planning to make his children work. The female participants and athletes challenged the norms of the villages they passed by through walking and running in the streets and engaging in conversations denouncing all forms of gender based violence. Even though the athletes had previous work experience on youth training and professional development, for them the edutainment techniques used by the young peers were effective in steering this community dialogue on population. Throughout these 938 KM, the youth participants witnessed transformation in how they view the role of their peers in leading the demographic change needed for Egypt. They became strong believers of using sports, drama and games for social change and for challenging norms perpetuating preference for bigger families with no attention for quality of life for children, harmful practices of FGM and child marriage against girls and reduced youth knowledge and awareness of their reproductive health and their role in the society.

In his remarks, Dr. Aleksandar Sasha Bodiroza, UNFPA Representative in Egypt concluded: “We need leadership of the Government of Egypt and its Ministry of Youth and Sports to mobilize young people in the communities to change the norms around the size of the family and invest in the well-being of adolescents and youth, and particularly adolescent girls that will unleash a demographic dividend of inclusive, sustainable economic growth in Egypt. UNFPA will be there as a valuable partner to help. Only together we can make a long-lasting difference and help achieve Egypt’s Vision 2030. The Government, civil society, communities, young people, religious leaders, private sector, public figures, celebrities, UN, donors… Because it isn’t that what it’s really all about — to go further together than we could alone. It’s a spirit of hope and spirit of possibility. About prosperous Egypt we all envision for 2030”

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