The heart to serve and safeguard youth health on a voluntary basis may seem impossible as some people would think it’s a lucrative job opportunity. But youth leaders in Lilongwe and Kasungu have sacrificed to ensure their peers access to Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights and HIV (SRHR/HIV) information and services to prevent unwanted pregnancies and venereal infections.
Youth leader George Matanje, 20, chairperson for Chamama health center Youth Friendly Health Services (YFHS) corner, TA Wimbe in Kasungu, claims that after learning community mobilization approaches during 2019 Social Behaviour Change Communication – SRHR/HIV training at Wimbe in Kasungu, he has convinced over 170 parents to understand the importance of adolescents and youth to access health information and services including contraception. “The youth corner now has 70 adolescents and youth are fully aware of the dangers of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections,” he added.
From the chairperson of Bwemba youth club, TA Santhe in Kasungu, Madalo Banda, 24, uses drama to attract more youth to access contraception information. Being a living testimony of injectable and implant contraception, she has real-time appeal and dispels myths and misconceptions circulating contraception. “I promote delayed first pregnancy and birth spacing behavioral messages where the former targets youth in primary and secondary school and the latter youth who have given birth for the first time and done with secondary education and/or are in college. So far, I have referred more than 50 girls to community health workers and hospitals to access short and long-term contraception,” she said.
The drama queen warns parents, adolescents, and youth that abstinence doesn’t work permanently for sweet and young partners because sex feelings graduate every day. “Parents and guardians should not pretend that abstinence is a lasting solution to youth in close relations, access to contraception is the only guarantee to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections,” Madalo advised.
Mentored youth leader Madalo also encouraged youth to commit to school because it builds a successful future claiming that she eyes a lot when she gets back to Soche Technical College in Blantyre where she has a place through TEVET to complete her studies in Tailoring and Fashion Designs.
Youth leaders of Kawata and Chikande youth clubs in TA Santhe and TA Nyaza Noel Sylvester Chatula and Nelson Ngoma respectively, agree that apart from championing referrals of youth to health workers, sports, and reading materials are reinforcing information reach to adolescents and youth. “We wish more organizations like FPAM would supply us with footballs and netballs, and family planning brochures to reach more youth with sports and information packs,” they requested.
This successful peer mobilization job is not passing without challenging youth leaders. “Some parents chase youth who opt to access contraceptives at a routine outreach clinic or even at the hospital premises,” Anthony Malata, a youth leader from Mitundu in Lilongwe said. “Such parents force other youth to send their friends to collect condoms on their behalf and it’s a bad practice,” Mackison Levenia, Youth Community Based Distribution Agent (YCBDA) who reports to Chiwamba health center, TA Chimutu in Lilongwe said.
Responding to the condemned behavior, Deputy Family Planning Coordinator for Kasungu District Hospital, Lydia Msowoya said “Youth should not be using friends to collect condoms because they miss out on access to counseling and mental health support that comes when issuing SRHR/HIV information and services.” She called parents to understand the importance of adolescents’ and youth sexual and reproductive health.
Youth leader, YCBDA, and Wimbe Youth Network chairperson, Ruth Kuyere, 23, explained that “previously most parents would flood my place to accuse me of introducing their children to prostitution. They were getting it wrong because today they thank me for protecting their girls and boys from unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases which have gone down in Wimbe area.”
Chamama Youth Friendly Health Services (YFHS) youth corner chairperson observes that some parents still do not understand the concept of YFHS. “We still have some parents that refuse to release their children fearing they will be introduced to sex. What they do not know is that they cannot tell if their children are already indulged in sex because, at Chamama health center, 13-year-olds in middle primary school classes come with unwanted pregnancies at the health facility,” he said.
And Nelson Ngoma and Madalo Banda shared that some areas in Kasungu like TA Nyaza have no Community Based Distribution Agents (CBDAs) to serve youth club members with short-term contraceptives. “We only depend on Health Surveillance Assistants (HSAs) who serve a vast area and priorities under-five clinics,” they said. “Other young people pull back when they hear or face contraception side effects like continued menses. But we refer them to the hospital where they are provided with a more suitable family planning method,” they added.
Youth leaders in Kasungu and Lilongwe agree that moving forward, they require to engage more parents and guardians to let their wards attend youth clubs and FYHS corners meetings to access comprehensive contraception information necessary for their sexuality decision like how to detect rape and how to engage in safer sex. They also pointed out the need to partner with organizations that can supply them with youth-friendly sports materials and more literary SRHR/HIV books to deal with myths and misconceptions trailing sexual and reproductive health and services.