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Celebrating 5 years of youth friendly services

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After criss-crossing paths of villages in Chikwawa, Dedza and Mangochi for five years, five non–governmental organisations (NGOs) which were implementing a sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) project under the Unite for Body Rights joined hands to celebrate the success registered over the years.

The five organisations namely Centre for Youth Empowerment and Civic Education (CYECE), Youth Net and Counselling (Yoneco), Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), Family Planning Association of Malawi (FPAM) and Centre for Alternatives for Victimised Women and Children (Cavwoc) came together in Mangochi in an alliance week to say goodbye to communities they had been working with.

The five year project running from January 2011 to December 2015 sought a €500, 000 funding from the Dutch SRHR Alliance in the Netherlands.

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Unite for Body Rights (UFBR) programme was a multi–disciplinary sexual reproductive health rights program whose aim was to address a number of sexual and reproductive health rights in response to government’s efforts of achieving Millennium Development Goals 3, 5 and 6.

Besides, UFBR was also an attempt at meeting national and international pledges and commitments contained in various protocols to which Malawi is a signatory, such as the International Conference on Population and Development.

UFBR had a combination of three interventions in education, service provision and creating an enabling environment while targeting young people of 10 to 24 years and marginalised groups such as sex workers. The theme of the open day was: ‘My choice, my future.’

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Speaking during an open day the NGOs organised at Chipalamawamba Primary School ground in the area of T/A Mponda, Malawi SRHR Alliance National Coordinator, Talimba Bandawe said through the alliance sexuality education has been conducted in all the programme areas in the three districts of Chikwawa, Dedza and Mangochi.

On the other hand, Bandawe said the alliance has also empowered the youth with proper information so that they were assertive and become agents of change in their schools.

“The strongest point about the activities of the alliance is that we advocated for provision of services to all people especially paying attention to the vulnerable and the marginalised in society,” Bandawe said.

She disclosed that the alliance has lobbied government to review the syllabus so that the youth and children grow up knowing sexual and reproductive health rights in a bid to make informed decisions on the same.

Bandawe, therefore, commended the collaboration with UFBR partners and others in health related programmes in general for complementing government in its efforts of providing quality health services. She cited health education as being influential in the efforts.

CHRRs executive director Timothy Mtambo said the initiative had brought team spirit among the partners by complementing each other because of the various skills each one brought to the alliance.

Mtambo said UFBR was inclusive in its approach because it took on board people with sexual minorities such as lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) considering that HIV interventions cut across all social or economic strata, claiming that national HIV programming leaves out other sections of the society.

“While in this programme, deliberate attempt was made to reach out to different sectors of society like health workers who had some capacity gaps in providing the services. Various stakeholders were also trained,” Mtambo said.

“Gradually, the landscape is changing.”

Weighing in on the matter, Yoneco executive director MacBain Mkandawire said as a member of the Malawi Reproductive Health Alliance, his organisation had benefited a lot in terms of learning from other partners both national and international.

“There was a lot of blending of different knowledge and skills thereby making the alliance more exciting and effective – for example there was consideration for special groups where you have the youth on one hand, sex workers and men having sex with men on the other,” he noted.

Mkandawire said what was most striking about the initiative was the diversity of target groups with people being considered as aliens or outcasts in society being beneficiaries of the programme.

He emphasised that taking services to the people was different from taking people to services, adding: “We’ve tried to take the services to people and in so doing people have had the opportunity of going through HIV testing and counselling while increasing uptake of SRH services at the same time.”

According to Mkandawire, the alliance through UFBR has over the years registered a steady growth of participating NGOs through capacity building initiatives with external leadership and support.

However, Mkandawire admitted that when dealing with issues of SRHR especially among the youth, hurdles existed, pointing out parents’ denial that children get involved in sexual activities at a very young age.

“The mere fact that more girls get pregnant in schools is a true reflection that they’re engaged in sex. We, therefore, have called for a comprehensive sexuality policy in the education sector to address that aspect,” he observed.

Adding: “I know that there are a lot of misgivings about this since people think we’re promoting alien practices and what have you. We also realise that changing policy is not an easy thing.”

However, Mkandawire said there was need to engage with the community leadership to sustain the gains made through activities of the alliance, in view of the fact that cultural beliefs like initiation ceremonies play a crucial role in SRH.

He, therefore, disclosed that Yoneco would move on with the programme to another area within the district with support from DfID.

In the same regard, both CYECE SHRH Project Coordinator Prisca Chakholoma and Henry Nyaka, Communications Officer for FPAM, were all praises about the intervention, saying the project has been influential in helping increasing access of health services by the youth in Dedza where the two were implementing UFBR.

Nyaka said UFBR has assisted in strengthening some of the networks in the project areas such as youth networks through training of young people on SRHR packages such as peer education, sexuality education and sexual rights.

“It has also increased the accessibility of the services to young people in hard to reach areas through outreach clinics, training some of youth friendly health services providers and also supervision of such providers in the remote health facilities,” Nyaka emphasised.

Speaking when he presided over the open day as guest of honour, Director of Inspectorate and Advisory Services in the Ministry of Education, Raphael Agabu said government was very grateful for the initiative which he said had proved that there was strength in unity.

Agabu said the education sector had benefited greatly from the project because it worked towards engaging communities, teachers and learners on sexual reproductive health rights thereby reducing drop– out rates due to early pregnancies among others.

Some of the objectives that the SRHR Alliance was addressing included, increasing utilisation and quality of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, increasing quality and delivery of comprehensive sexuality education, reducing sexual gender based violence and increasing acceptance of sexual diversity and gender identity. It was targeting close to 129,530 young people.—Mana

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