By Mc Donald Chapalapata:
When the mother of one of the girls in Chamthyethye Youth Club in Traditional Authority (T/A) Mzikubola, Mzimba District learnt that her daughter had taken a family planning method, she was angry at the youth in the club.
She thought all they were spending their time on when they met were discussions about relationships and sex.
The girl was in form two at Hoho Community Day Secondary School in the district. She was in second term. The mother did not want her to fail.
Through sexual and reproductive health information the youth in the club share, the girl made her own decision to seek family planning products, according to secretary of the group Victor Msowoya.
“We don’t force anyone to take a family planning product. We emphasise abstinence but we also explain the various family planning products that are available if the youths are sexually active,” Msowoya says.
But the mother was too angry to take any word from Msowoya when they tried to reason with her. She took her daughter to a clinic where the family planning product was removed.
In third term, the girl fell pregnant. Now her education prospects were at risk. Her mother was broken.
She now realised her daughter was right by seeking family planning services. She also realised the young people were sharing progressive information in the club. Remorseful, she went back to the youth club and apologised for her actions towards the youths.
“She said she now understood that in our group we are doing good things for ourselves and for our community,” Msowoya says.
Today, the woman is one of the matrons for the youths in the club.
In the seven districts where the third phase of the N’zatonse project, a sexual reproductive and health rights (SRHR) programme funded by the German government through the German Development Bank, is being implemented, youths are taking the lead.
They are making decisions about their lives. They speak with their mates, community leaders and parents on how poor practices on sexual reproductive health affect young people’s lives.
In those areas, youths are rescuing girls who dropped out of school to get married and encouraging those that fell pregnant early to return to school.
In Mzimba, for instance, Bridget Sindo of Thomas Sindo Village in T/A Mpherembe got married after getting pregnant at the age of 13.
Youths belonging to Enko Youth Club in the area broke up the marriage, returned the girl to her parents and encouraged her to go back to school. Bridget is now in standard seven. She is among eight boys and girls whom the club took out of marriage and returned to school.
The N’zatonse project is instilling in youth a spirit of self-initiative among them where they are rising to the challenge to support themselves and others.
At the time of our visit to Enko Youth Club in November last year, the youths had 24 bags of maize stored in one of the rooms of their resource centre constructed with support from Dan Church Aid (DCA) which funds local faith-based organisations to implement the N’zatonse project.
“We are just waiting for the right time to sell it. We grow maize and soybean every season to raise funds to run the affairs of the club and to support youths that are in need so that they do not drop out of school or marry early,” Lameck Mwanza, chairperson of Enko Youth Club says.
Doracy Mbaso, now 19, is another beneficiary of youth industry in the same district. When she finished her primary school, she could not continue with her education because her parents did not have money to pay for her secondary school fees.
Members of a N’zatonse Youth Club which she had joined contributed money and got her back in school. Now she is in Form Three at Kabwafu Community Day Secondary School.
In the second term, a well-wisher gave her some money. Mindful that the challenge of fees might recur, she decided to invest it in a business.
“Through the meetings I had been attending at the youth club under the N’zatonse project, I learnt about independence. I learnt that girls too can make it in life. We discussed issues of gender, human rights and sexual and reproductive health,” Doracy says.
As a reproductive health programme, the N’zatonse project seeks to strengthen demand for and access to high quality sexual and reproductive health and rights information, products and services among youth aged between 10 and 24 years.
But it is achieving more. It is inculcating a sense of initiative and self-empowerment among the youths to take control of their lives.
Joyce Chiphwanya is a beneficiary of the project.
She dropped out of school in Form Two at Namwanje CDSS in T/A Makata in Blantyre rural She had fallen pregnant. When the N’zatonse project came to the area with Blantyre Synod Health and Development Commission as local implementing partners, she joined a youth club in the area.
Among the activities under the project, implemented Rumphi, Mzimba, Neno, Ntchisi, Ntcheu, Thyolo and Blantyre districts, she was one of the youths that had been pooled to a training workshop on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
At that workshop, the participants were given an allowance of K21,000 each. She used K2,000 for meeting her needs at home and invested the rest in a business. She buys and sells washing powder.
“I am paying for my school fees from the business. I use some of the money to look after my child and meet a few needs at home where I stay with my mother,” the 19-year-old says.
Senior Programme Officer at the Norwegian Church Aid and DCA Joint Country Programme, Beatrice Gumbo, says the project has enabled youths to confidently make informed decisions regarding their reproductive health.
“Youths are no longer bystanders but actively engage their duty-bearers in order to achieve meaningful changes regarding their SRHR through advocacy forums,” Gumbo says.
According to Gumbo, the youth have led demand creation for SRHR among their peers through comprehensive sexuality education using faith-based teaching guides.
The N’zatonse project is implemented through a consortium approach, led by Population Services International, Act Alliance and DCA, Ministry of Health and Family Planning Association of Malawi.
Implementing partners include Blantyre Synod Health and Development Commission, Catholic Health Commission, Evangelical Association of Malawi and Livingstonia Synod Health Department.