Youth Leaders for Nutrition: Getting to know Maxwell and Florence

Advocacy, Youth Leaders, East and Southern Africa

A couple of weeks ago two of our Youth Leaders for Nutrition, Florence Sibomana and Maxwell Mumba, from Rwanda and Zambia respectively, got their first taste of London. As well as developing a newfound love of Caribbean food, the two Youth Leaders for Nutrition certainly made their mark on the capital.

They had audiences with DFID Minister Wendy Morton and members of DFID staff, Florence spoke on a panel hosted by Action Against Hunger, and they even made time in their busy schedule to visit the offices of Results UK and Save the Children UK!

Sadly, their trip was cut short due to Covid-19, but not before we had a chance to speak to them about their work, the N4G summit and what they would say to fellow youth advocates.

(The following text is a transcript of an interview conducted at Save the Children UK by Miski Abdi and Zoe Bennell)

Why nutrition?

Maxwell: Policymakers are there to listen to us, we are the future generation of tomorrow and we need to take ownership. I am a young person and I’m advocating for nutrition. You can see that nutrition interlinks with all other sectors. Talk of climate change, it all trickles down to nutrition. Talk of sexual reproductive health, it all trickles down to nutrition. Talk about vaccines, because this is a priority agenda. If you offer babies a vaccine, those babies need to be healthy and that all starts with nutrition, so it all interlinks with each other. You can be a young person from all over the world, it’s so important that if you’re talking about climate change or talking about vaccines, family planning or sexual reproductive health, nutrition should be the first line of it because it all starts from there. Everything trickles down to nutrition. I always say nutrition is the foundation of life. So, I’m urging you, take action.

What do you do as a youth leaders in your countries?

Florence: I’m trying to work with my fellow young people in the district where we are going to select 30 young champions of nutrition in all 30 districts of my country. They are going to train them so they have the skills and abilities to share with other young people in the community – by going in the schools and teaching them about good nutrition, hygiene, because it’s linked to nutrition. Engaging my fellow young people, to empower other young people.

Maxwell: As one of the youth leaders for nutrition in Zambia, I focus on adolescent nutrition because I believe that adolescents are the future generation for tomorrow. I am looking at how much an adolescent is important to society, looking at the transition stage from childhood to adult[hood]. If you don’t have good nutrition, you might not do well in class. I always say nutrition is the foundation of life because this is where everyone has to make the right decision.

The other thing I do is engage the policymakers and lawmakers in the area of nutrition because it’s important that our current leadership should buy into the idea of prioritising nutrition. It’s important we engage policymakers as young people because our voice really counts. Let’s not leave it to the older generation to fight the battle for us in terms of pushing the agenda of advocacy around nutrition but let’s own it as youths.

What have been the highlights of your work?

Maxwell: My highlight of my advocacy work has been meeting various policymakers, not only locally, but also internationally. I have met people like Gerda Verburg, who is the SUN movement coordinator I have been to the Global Citizen festival in South Africa and met with Amina J. Mohammed, who is the Deputy Secretary-General of the UN.

Locally I have met with the minister of finance and the minister of health and also the key decision makers in nutrition circles. I am so happy that, during my work as a youth leader, I have become recognised and I am now consulted in the area of nutrition. I provide guidelines for adolescent nutrition in the country, which is an amazing highlight for me.

Florence: Apart from meeting the key decision makers, my highlights have been opportunities to attend big global events like Women Deliver conference, TICAD and the UN General Assembly. I loved the moment at the General Assembly, where I got an opportunity to meet the CEO of Save the Children UK, Save the Children US, the delegation from Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and members of the government of Norway, where I have been advocating for nutrition but specifically to improve child survival.

What is N4G and why is it important?

Maxwell: The Nutrition for Growth summit is happening this year in Tokyo. This is where various governments, like the UK government or the Zambian government, come together to pledge to ensure that there is an end to malnutrition. I want to thank the UK government for the various help they have given over the past years through their N4G support and I would encourage them to continue to do more because more lives can be saved. My encouragement to various African countries is lets also take part in this N4G summit as it’s the future for our future generation.

Florence: N4G summit is going to be a very big conference on nutrition this year and it’s going to be a very special year for nutrition. This is going to be the summit that is going to bring together all countries, representatives, Civil Society organisations, and other people who are related to nutrition where we are trying to pledge different amounts when it comes to nutrition financing. When it comes to this summit, we really encourage the UK government to continue finance for nutrition because it has been encouraging our countries to do the same. Through its financing, we have been able to advocate, and we show the population, we show our government, we show decision makers, that nutrition is an important point to consider. That’s why we want this N4G summit to be a very big conference where our countries are going to own responsibility for nutrition financing, and donor countries like the UK continue to bring an amount of nutrition financing, because it has been lifesaving in the last few years.

A message to other youth advocates

Florence: I started this advocacy journey at 9 years old. It was a really big task for me, I couldn’t believe that I could do something like that. I took part in the national children’s summit back home, where we were discussing a lot of topics like children in education, fighting against violence towards children. I couldn’t believe I could be such a global advocate but being a global advocate has always been tied with actions. There is no way I could be one of the global youth leaders for nutrition without actions. So what I can tell you is, start small, regardless of your young age, start small, and try to find and champion your area of interest. By starting that small thing, your small activity in your community, the rest of the community will be shown the way.