YouthAssets’ Leaders Visit Swaziland

In August, Executive Director, Jennifer Sly, and Board Chair, Deb Simerlink, traveled to Swaziland to meet with the Youth Advisory Board. After months of working with them virtually via their email capable mobile phones, it was gratifying to be able to see them in person again. We met with various youth-focused non-governmental organizations and then held a two day retreat for the youth at Thokhoza Conference Center in the capital city of Mbabane. The youth had time to reconnect with one another, sharing their achievements and concerns. Several NGOs were able to attend portions of the retreat to introduce the youth to resources available to them. One NGO arranged for two law students to speak to the youth about their rights and even met one-on-one with any youth seeking confidential advice. Another organization, Manzini Youth Care, sent a representative who spoke passionately to the youth about starting businesses. He also described vocational training programs that the center offers to help young entrepreneurs get started.


The most exciting outcome resulted from a visit by the Swaziland Peace Corps Country Director, Steve Driehaus, and 5 Peace Corps volunteers. They engaged the youth in a conversation about Peace Corps Swaziland’s current mission: to identify, approach, and support orphans who are heading households. Since we have been working with the youth for several years, they are familiar and comfortable with this type of interaction. Based on this conversation, the Peace Corps asked the youth to serve as advisors to the Peace Corp volunteers. After all, who could better advise them than these amazing youth who are themselves heading households? In return, the Peace Corps will provide the youth with training in goal setting and life skills, and will help them connect with resources to pursue their income generation goals. The structure of this program is still in development, but they have already had their first meeting. It certainly is an exciting opportunity for our youth to grow and help others in similar situations!

World AIDS Day: Thursday, December 1, 2011

World AIDS Day Candles

As we work with young people in Swaziland who experience the brunt of the impact of HIV/AIDS, we take time to remember the people affected by this disease and those who are working to fight it.  The recently released report by UNAIDS describes the progress that has been made, but also emphasizes that much still needs to be done while facing the budget cuts brought on by the recession.  Read the report here:  2011 UNAIDS World AIDS Day Report


Inspired by the success of the “barCamp” model to bring like-minded people together for a day of learning, listening, sharing ideas, and networking, we hosted Swaziland’s first tech “unconference”: BarCampSwaziland on June 27,2009 in Swaziland.

Learn more about BarCampSwaziland, including the who/what/where/why by checking out our wiki!

YouthAssets & BarCampSwaziland Featured in the Swazi Times!


We are so excited that YouthAssets and BarCampSwaziland were featured in the local Swazi Times newspaper this week – how cool is that! BarCampSwaziland will be the country’s first tech conference – an event expected to bring together roughly one hundred technology and media practitioners for a day of knowledge exchange, collaboration, and relationship building.

Many thanks go out to our wonderful supporters and sponsors who are helping to make this event possible, including House on Fire, Comparatio, and Swazis Rock. In addition, we’re especially looking forward to the privilege of using this event as a training ground to provide hands-on experience in blogging and video journalism for the youth we serve. Thanks to our partnership with Flip Video’s Spotlight Program, we’ll have some Flip video cameras on hand that will provide us an opportunity to teach youth how to tell their stories through video and publish video stories to the web, including to YouthAssets’ YouTube channel & blog, as well as to partner media outlets.

Check out the story on YouthAssets above that our friends at the Swazi Times featured this week. Also, be sure to keep posted on developments and updates on BarCampSwaziland here on our blog, as well as via Twitter: &

See you at BarCampSwaziland on June 27th!

mBanking in Kenya


I turned on the radio and joined National Public Radio’s (NPRs) show “Talk of the Nation” in progress.  One the show as a woman from Kenya talking about how phones are used for “mbanking”.  I really wanted to share what we learned from our interviews with youth-headed households in rural Swaziland on their mobile use.  Not only did these youth who have very limited access to resources own a mobile phone, they used these phones creatively as a survival tool.  Uses ranged from “flashing” (calling a phone and then hanging up before you are charged) neighbors during a break-in, receiving requests for work and payment via mobile, and calling relatives in town for emotional and material support.
I called Gcina Dube, our partner on the ground who helped up conduct our interviews, and patched him in the NPR’s call in number.  But by the time we did that, got screened, the show was wrapping up.  Stay tuned for more information from our research….
To check out the show on mBanking in Kenya, be sure to visit:

Using Mobile Phones for Emotional Support

I recently read about the new practice of burying loved ones with their cell phone. While some people put a cell phone in the casket as an object that their loved one valued, some use the phone as emotional support after their loved one is gone. Some people call their loved one’s phone and leave a message when they miss them. In this article, one woman actually continues to the pay the bill and leave regular messages for her late husband.

While the article is pretty light-hearted, over time I have been really thinking seriously about how mobile phones can provide so much comfort. Sometimes just knowing that I CAN make a late night call or use the light of my phone when it is dark. And of course, I luckily still have my parents and have access to electricty. It makes me wonder how much emotional support just having a phone could be for youth-headed households…

Read more on the article here:

Engaging Youth


It is absolutely critical as the world works together to develop solutions to world challenges, that youth who are most affected are involved in the solutions. The youth we serve are resourceful, thoughtful, creative, and ready for the challenge of developing new solutions to make their lives and communities better.

I had the chance to speak with Steve Vosloo while he was in the Reuters Digital Vision Program at Stanford Universty. Now a Fellow at the Shuttleworth Foundation, Steve advocated for youth participation during his presentation, “Enabling Access to Participation” at Web4Dev in New York City on 11 February 2009. I was happy to hear Steve emphasize the importance  of engaging youth in problem definition, solution generation, and action.  Only through engaging youth in decisions can youth receive the most appropriate support, skills, and freedom to create the world that they would like to live in. Check out Steve Vosloo’s blog here on Innovating Education.

YouthAssets is ready to engage groups of five youth on mobile phone teleconferences to give youth the opportunity to define their own strategies for thriving while engaged in a supportive community of peers. Keep in touch as we raise funds for our pilot program.

Listening to Youth in Swaziland

YouthAssets wants to hear what the youth we serve have to say. Facing some of the largest challenges our planet has ever faced (HIV/AIDS epidemic, large inequities between rich and poor, limited economic opportunities), youth in our pilot country of Swaziland are also facing some of their own personal challenges (watching their loved ones dies in their family and communities, becoming a role model and caretaker for younger siblings, and working to love, feed, clothe, and education their family).

In July and August of 2008, I had the priviledge with Gcina, Bongani, and Thembie to talk in person with 54 youth who were living in rural Swaziland and were the primary caretakers and head of household for their family. We asked them about what made them happy, what was most important to them in life, how they were currently being supported, and their access to information and information technologies. These youth, although tasked with some immediate concerns, were long-term strategic thinkers, loving and caring for their siblings, and generous with their abilities and resources for their families and communities.

I can’t wait to share with you what they had to say in our upcoming report.

Welcome to YouthAssets’ New Site

Encouraged by colleagues at our local “social tech for social good” NetSquared Twin Cities meetings, I opened up a Twitter account (@youthassets) and took the plunge into “micro-blogging”. Not thinking I had too much to say, the 140 character limit seemed to be perfect for my foray into writing. I reported in real time our interviews via mobile phone with youth-headed households in rural Swaziland and realized that not only did I not have a lot to say, but these youth had lots to say, too. We look forward to sharing our thoughts in a longer format and hope you will share your thoughts as well. Welcome to our new YouthAssets’ blog and online home.