Daisy Magaña of Belize visited Washington, DC on April 22 to deliver a key message to policy makers and advocates: please keep funding family planning and environment programs around the world. "I can't believe anyone would seriously consider cutting these programs," she says, "they are what we really need."
In a meeting at the State Department Magaña, who comes from the Corozal region, spoke passionately about the needs of young people in her country, including for accurate sexual and reproductive health information. "What we see in Belize is a lack of sexuality education," she said. "If we want to reduce the number of illegal abortions in Belize, we need to have a better to way to get good information to teenagers." Magaña has been campaigning for the past several years to open a youth center in her town where adolescents and young people could obtain scientifically accurate information about preventing pregnancy and avoiding sexually-transmitted infections. "One rumor out there is that if a man wears two condoms at once, his partner is protected twice as much from becoming pregnant," she said. Another function of the youth center in Corozal would be to offer training to youth in trades where jobs are available, she says. However, permission to obtain the land for the center is still pending with Belizean government officials. The meeting at the State Department included Jennifer Van Trump, Costa Rica and Belize desk officer, Justin Sosne and Natika Washington from the Secretary of State's Office of Global Women's Issues, and Jeanie Duwan for the Office of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Sierra Club Conservation Organizer Kimberly Lovell also participated.
In 2009, Magaña was introduced to the GOJoven program by a friend in the 4H club. Over the course of the next year, as a GOJoven Fellow, she received more than 275 hours of training in sexual and reproductive health, environmental issues and public health from the Public Health Institute staff. "I couldn't imagine putting that much effort into a training program," she says, "but it was really worth it." Now Magaña trains dozens of new youth advocates from her region and elsewhere in Belize. "It takes a long time to deliver accurate training," she says. She noted that an emerging issue is the stigma from cancer. "There is almost nothing available on women's cancer in Belize, but this is a very common condition," she says.
GOJoven (also known as Youth Leadership in Sexual and Reproductive Health Program) is run by the Public Health Institute with funding from the Summit Foundation. Its mission is to promote and support the development of young leaders to act as catalysts for social change who will vastly expand adolescent reproductive and sexual health choices, services, policies, and programs at community, national, and regional levels.
Magaña also spoke about the need for greater access to internet outside of the capitol Belize City. "In my town, there is just one computer for all 1,500 residents and that is another service we hope to provide in the teen center." She said that along with gangs and drugs, human trafficking is on the rise in Belize. "I know of one girl from Guatemala who had her passport taken away and was forced to work on a boat-hotel until she was rescued," she says. Magaña says that family violence is also common in Belize, especially among the poor.
Following the meeting at the State Department Magaña participated in a series of events held at the Sierra Club's Washington, DC office, including a "White House Youth Roundtable" attended by a staff member from the White House Council on Women and Girls, along with about a dozen young people from the United States. Her message there was simple: don't give up. "If you think being active on environmental and sexual rights issues is hard to do here, imagine doing it in a deeply conservative country like mine," she says. Earlier in the week, she had visited 10 college campuses in the northeastern United States, also arranged by the Sierra Club's program on Population and the Environment.