How does Kamanda Kamara describe Plan International? “A true mother or father that has successfully taken me through professional and personal development.”
Hailing from Port Loko, Sierra Leone, Kamanda’s advocacy journey with Plan began in 2012 when he joined Plan Sierra Leone’s Youth Advisory Panel (akin to Plan USA’s Youth Advisory Board). In Sierra Leone, the panel brings together young people to vocalize their needs and work alongside Plan for girls’ rights and gender equality. Then, Kamanda joined Plan’s Global Youth Advisory Panel, where he worked with other young advocates from around the world to advise Plan’s global CEO on the organization’s youth engagement strategy and global humanitarian agenda.
“Nine years ago, myself and youth leaders challenged Plan International’s highest leadership structure and debated on why youth engagement is important,” Kamanda says. “Today, we have effective and invaluable youth advisory panels at Plan International.”
Kamanda’s time as a young advocate with Plan was also during the height of the Ebola epidemic. Many people in Sierra Leone weren’t able to access health care, girls’ access to school was put on pause, gender-based violence increased and food became hard to find. So, Kamanda created his own youth-led awareness campaign, distributing educational information about the crisis and advocating for a stronger government response. His leadership in this work brought him to the French senate, where he was invited to speak on the participation of young people in crisis situations.
“When the Ebola crisis started in Sierra Leone, we got together and organized ourselves,” Kamanda said in a 2017 interview with Plan. “We tried to make our voices heard on the radio, but it was very difficult. We then started to communicate directly by creating blogs that explained how to avoid contamination from the virus. We were also able to engage directly with many communities to alert them and to supply material.”
Today, Kamanda is a university graduate and is working as a project officer for Plan Sierra Leone. And, he’s pushing his passion for youth advocacy forward in an incredible way: by mobilizing a Youth Advisory Group — for the Sierra Leone government.
Working with Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, Kamanda has helped create this initiative to ensure young people are not just sitting at the government table, but also that their ideas are being heard. The Plan-supported Youth Advocacy Group is the first of its kind in Sierra Leone and is advising the ministry on how to provide educational opportunities and quality school resources for children.
“I am very much proud and excited to support the government — to rewrite the story of my country through an established and structural youth engagement platform,” Kamanda says. “With education being the backbone of any nation, and with the ministry of education in Sierra Leone serving a young generation of over 69% of the population, I believe that this is the right and best direction to achieving sustainable development.”
The Youth Advisory Group is still in its early stages, but it’s already helped the ministry create a road map for engaging with young people and brainstorm ways to better involve children and young people in government work. The YAG members are embracing localization, changing systems at the government level and shifting power to young people. And Kamanda is ready to see the positive change that young people in Sierra Leone, and around the world, will continue to make.
“I hope that with all of the attention that this initiative is receiving, world leaders can lead by example and inspire many other institutions to include young people in their governance, since it gives the opportunity to young people to discuss and proffer workable gender equality solutions,” Kamanda says. “I also hope other countries in Africa and beyond are inspired, and recognize the value of putting young people at the center of all that they do.”