Sunday, 20 December 2015

Young People from Mangochi District Applaud YONECO for Conducting SRH Outreach Activities in their Areas

Young people from the areas of Traditional Authorities (T/As) Bwananyambi and Chowe hailed YONECO for conducting Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) outreach activities right in their communities. The youth asserted that they are always in need of both SRH services and information but their efforts to access information and services are prevented by long distances to the available delivery points.
Young people from Chisopi village indicated that a nearest delivery point is Nkumba Health Center which is 9 Km away from their area. The young people also revealed that young girls are getting early and unwanted pregnancies due to lack of information and access to SRH services.
The fact that young people from the targeted areas are indeed in need of SRH services manifested itself with the uptake of the services that were being provided during the outreach activity. Many young people went for HIV Counselling and Testing (HTC) and accessed SRH information as well as services
While appreciating the good work which YONECO does for young people, a Headmaster from one of the Primary Schools that are in the area bemoaned the increase in the number of child marriage cases. The Headmaster stated that child marriages are greatly contributing to high school dropout rates of girls in the area.  He further added that many of the adolescent girls who drop out of school are married off to men who work and stay in South Africa.
The Headmaster also indicated that he was very optimistic that providing the adolescents with SRH information and services is a prolific move that will help in reducing the prevalence of teenage pregnancies as well as school dropouts as a matter of consequence.

With support from UNFPA, YONECO has been implementing a number of initiatives that are aimed at enhancing Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRH&R) as well as the welfare of young people in Nkhata Bay, Mangochi, Machinga, Chiradzulu and Chikwawa districts.  The package of the SRH Outreach Activities for Young People include; HIV Counselling and Testing (HTC), providing contraceptives as well as accurate and age-appropriate information about sex and sexuality. 

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

2015 World AIDS Day: Malawi along the Path to “Zero”

1 December is the World AIDS Day and this is the day when people across the globe show their support for people living with HIV and AIDS, unite in the fight against the disease, increase awareness and fight stigma. As we commemorate this day under the international theme that started in 2011 - “Getting to Zero”, there is need to reflect on what has worked, what has not and why such strategies did not work or worked.

Among other milestones, Malawi has managed to reduce the number of new infections from 130,000 recorded in 1994 to 32,000 in 2013. This is not a mean achievement and this landmark stands as proof that we can really “Get to Zero!” Furthermore, Malawi has also reduced the number of AIDS related deaths from 94,000 per year, as recorded in 2004, to 48, 000 deaths in 2013.

As stated in June, 2014 by the Chairperson of the National AIDS Commission (NAC), Mara Kumbweza Banda; despite these achievements, 32,000 new HIV infections every year is very high and the national HIV prevalence rate of 10.3% and incidence rate is still high as well.

As a country, Malawi is making some tremendous strides on issues pertaining to HIV management and other related issues. However, there is also a need to deal with HIV-related stigma and discrimination. The prejudice, negative attitudes and abuses directed towards people who are living with HIV and AIDS are just unacceptable and have no place in the democratic Malawi.

Some people living with HIV are being denied treatment in hospitals. Some more are being denied access to benefit from the government’s Farm Input and Fertilizer Subsidy Programme among other heartrending accounts of people living with HIV. Something has to be done in order to ensure that such pervasive negative attitudes are dealt with.

YONECO’s vision is “a self-reliant HIV and AIDS free society that respects democratic values and principles”. Any kind of stigma is an undesirable element in any society and the organisation works tirelessly to raise people’s awareness on the consequences of stigma and discrimination. YONECO believes that we can live in a free society where people are not being stigmatised on the basis of their circumstances in life be it their HIV status or what-have-you. Stigma is the last thing that is needed in battle against further spreading of HIV infection as well as mitigating the impact of AIDS.

There is hope and there is need to ensure that people who are HIV positive are starting treatment in good time. Malawi commemorated the World AIDS Day under the theme "Getting to Zero is Possible with Early HIV Treatment. Act Now".

Today, over a million Malawians are living with HIV and out of these, 310,000 are young people below the age of 24!”
Together we can “get to Zero!”

Saturday, 21 November 2015

HIV Prevalence Rate among Adolescents is higher than that of Adults in Malawi: Why Young People?

A study that was conducted in 2012 by UNICEF indicates that HIV prevalence rate among Malawian adolescents is 5% higher than that of adults.  This is very shocking and this rationalizes the need to intensify our efforts towards reducing the rate at which young people are contracting the virus.

Discussing this issue with some young people, they seemed to be ignorant of the underlying factors that contribute to this shocking revelation. The question that needs to be answered is; why the youth? This issue is indeed astonishing and it is food for thought, not to the youths alone but to everyone in the country. However, the youth themselves also need to be proactive in ensuring that duty bearers are respecting their Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRH&R). The youth also need to seek the available resources to prevent HIV infection.

Among other things, Malawian young people surely need two important things; information and services. Firstly, it is the role of the government and other institutions like NGOs that are working in the area of youth development and SRH to ensure that adolescents have all the necessary information about HIV/AIDS. Behaviour change occurs when the targeted groups of people have information and they act upon it.  Secondly, provision of sexual and reproductive health services should also be an integral part of the strategy. This is where the availability of Youth Friendly Health Services in our health facilities should be felt.

Young people are the pillars of our nation, let us all save adolescent young people by making sure that all that needs to be done in order to deter the spread of HIV among the youth is done. 

Monday, 2 November 2015

The Fifth Edition of 19 Days of Activism for Prevention of Violence against Children and the Youth

The 2015 19 Days of Activism for Prevention of Violence against Children and the Youth is here again. This is the fifth edition and this year’s main theme is about ‘BULLYING’. Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO) has lined up a number of activities that will run throughout the entire period from 1st to 19 November, 2015. The activities are aimed at raising awareness on the dangers and the need to prevent bullying and other forms of abuse which children and the youth are regrettably subjected to.

Among other activities; YONECO will be conducting Theatre for Development (TfD) performances, WhatsApp discussions on prevention of child abuse as well as sending out SMSes to a wide range of people. Furthermore, with support from UNICEF, YONECO FM Radio Station will also run a series of insightful radio drama on bullying and other forms of abuses that are perpetrated towards children and the youth in Malawi.  

The need to intensify prevention of child abuse activities in Malawi is very crucial. According to a 2013 research on Violence against Children in Malawi that was conducted by UNICEF and the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare indicates that 2 out of 3 children experience violence before the age of 18. This is heartrending and something should be done to enhance the rights and welfare of children in the country.   

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Demystifying Myths and Misconceptions about Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE)

I always look at adolescence as a swim or sink stage in every human being’s life albeit most parents and guardians do not want to acknowledge this fact. It is quite a trying period when one tries to experiment with almost everything be it sex, drugs, alcohol and what have you. This is a stage whereby many people lose their visions and live a life full of regret just because of the mistake(s) they made when they were adolescents. 

One of the most hazardous experiments is conducted with sex and there is no other way we can explain what befalls an inexperienced driver who drives so fast along a busy and winding street – When something happens, we always say; he /she was na├»ve and careless. But the question is; after you had observed the naivety and carelessness, what did you do to help? The society is not supposed to sit down and watch promising young lives getting destroyed because they lacked information.

A good choice is made as a result of prior information one has before making a decision to choose something. If young people are to abstain from sex, they certainly need to be provided with comprehensive information concerning the advantages of making such a choice. Comprehensive information should also be given to those who fail to abstain in order to safeguard them from blindly falling into a ditch.  These are some of the reasons why I always advocate for age-appropriate sexuality education and I strongly feel that all young people should also demand this from established sources.  Young people should always remember that preparing for one’s future is analogous to preparing for examination; you really need to be knowledgeable for you to pass. Knowledge comes as a direct result of learning appropriate things and being exposed to the right materials.   

A wise young person is supposed to know when to do what and how. Sometimes, young people trust their peers and other self-appointed sex and sexuality experts. The media is awash with stories of adolescent girls who are impregnated by witch doctors and some unscrupulous pastors whose tricks could be easily avoided only if the girls are aware of how their bodies operate. The pseudo witchdoctors and pastors fabricate prophecies and visions which they use to trick the unsuspecting young girls into sleeping with them. Furhermore, the world will debate less or not have any problem concerning the issue of termination of pregnancies among young people, be it safe or unsafe abortion.

However, parents and guardians believe and also make young people feel that Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) is a problem instead of looking at it as part of the solution to sexual and reproductive health problems which young people face every day. Parents and guardians do not allow their adolescent children to attend CSE simply because of some predominant myths and misconceptions surrounding CSE as stated and demystified below.
  1. Comprehensive Sexuality Education is a sin against God. The belief that CSE is a sin has led to a number of challenges whereby people have grown up without properly knowing their bodies. Neither does CSE use vulgar language nor does it intend to destroy or encourage immorality.
  2. Comprehensive Sexuality Education turns young people into sex maniacs. This misconception is also misleading and a total distortion of the truth. CSE aims at delaying the first sexual encounter among young people and simply offers some alternatives when the youth have failed to abstain from sex. In my opinion, a youth with full knowledge of his or her sexuality is more likely to abstain from sex than those who are not.    
  3. Comprehensive Sexuality Education teaches taboo subjects to small children. There is always a consideration of age and CSE always imparts young people with age-appropriate sexuality information. Thus, with this in mind, the information given to the adolescents cannot be off-limits.
  4. Promoting the use of condoms and contraceptives encourages young people to tryout. It may be hard to believe but it is true that there are some young people out there who are sexually active and it is hard and inconceivable to tacitly allow them to have unprotected casual sex. Furthermore, CSE promotes ABC and one study that was conducted in 1997 also indicated that the promotion and distribution of condoms to adolescents does not increase rates of sexual activity, but significantly increases condom use among those adolescents who are sexually active (Guttmacher et al., 1997; Schuster, Bell).

We really need to work-out our fears and look at things the way they are. Young people’s HIV and STI prevalence rates are already high, early pregnancies have also led to a number of heartrending consequences among many young people. The myths and misconceptions we hold and protect are the main barriers that have stood on path to young people’s social and economic development.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

A Parenting Circle Saves a Teen Mother from a Chronic Disorder

By Wanangwa Mumba

About half of nearly 120 million women who give birth each year experience some kind of complication during their pregnancies and between 15 million and 20 million develop disabilities such as severe anaemia, incontinence, damage to the reproductive organs or nervous system, chronic pain, and infertility. Maternal disabilities have received relatively little attention, because they are often concealed.

A 19 year-old young lady from the area of Traditional Authority (T/A) Ngokwe in Machinga district survived this condition. After giving birth to a baby boy in November, 2013, she started experiencing unbearable pelvic pain. The lady had a combination of obstructed or prolonged labour and infection during and after labour (sepsis). These conditions are usually associated with severe postpartum infections and increased risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), infertility, and neurological injuries, as well as a condition called "Foot Drop" that makes walking difficult and chronic pelvic pain.
In spite of all the pain, the young lady saw nothing strange because she perceived it as a mere consequence of childbearing. This was perpetuated by the fact that she was then an adolescent mother and adolescent mothers often lack knowledge, experience, and strength than older mothers hence they are susceptible to complications during pregnancy. Teens are least likely, of all maternal age groups, to get early and regular prenatal care.
The condition greatly affected her and her family as she walked with difficulties and the pain was unbearable. Consequentially, she started suffering from psychological problems like feeling isolated from the community. As a subsistence famer, the condition also affected her crop production and this meant hunger.

Early in the year 2014, YONECO, through its trained parenting facilitators, introduced community support structures for parents (Parenting Circles) in some parts of Machinga district. The circles operate in such a way that the members share their personal experiences, challenges and successes in the course of upbringing children. Furthermore, the groups also provide help and guidance to other members in regards to parenting skills. In addition, they discuss various issues pertaining to child rights and protection since the family, as a basic unit of the society, is better positioned to enhance the promotion of children’s rights. 

The process of sharing personal challenges helps the members to identify with others, break down isolation, and give hope to those struggling with seemingly insurmountable difficulties in parenting. It was through one of such forums where the case of the 19 year-old was brought to light. Some members of the group enlightened her parents that their daughter’s condition is curable and they were advised to seek medical attention.

The circle facilitator guided and supported the young lady and her parents and after seeking medical help, the condition has been cured and her life has turned back to normal. 

Saturday, 15 August 2015

The January 2015 Floods: A Blessing in Disguise to 69 Year-Old Woman from Phalombe

Edina Chimombo writing down her name on a piece of paper

In 1969, Edina Chilombo got into a wrong bus as she was coming from Mulanje on her way to Phalombe and she found herself so many kilometers away from her destination. Worse still, she had no any money in her pockets and the sun was setting.

 This was not the work of a ruthless magician or a spell from a covetous sorcerer, Edina trusted someone to show her a bus to take her to her destination, Misomali area, because she could not read the signs that were flagged on the windscreens of each commuter bus. Either intentionally or unintentionally, the person showed her a wrong bus which took her to a different direction.

According to ‘Gogo Edina’, as she is fondly called by her fellows in Thambe village where she lives, this is just one of the many ordeals which she has been going through in the last 60 years or so because she was unable to read or write.

Gogo Edina stated that among other things in her entire life, she will also live to remember the 2015 tormenting floods which washed away crop fields, household property, destroyed houses and livestock in the district. She was not spared by the disaster and she was heavily affected just like many other inhabitants of Thambe Village in the area of Traditional Authority Nazombe in Phalombe district. However, she called the January, 2015 floods, which compelled the Malawi government to declare a state of national disaster, a blessing in disguise.

“I am calling the floods a blessing because of what came out of the whole situation. YONECO brought us tents and established some structures in the flood evacuation camps. There were Gender Based Violence (GBV) prevention and reporting structures, women were being taught how to knit as well as adult literacy and numeracy classes also commenced within the camps.

Women showing some of the items 
that were knit
By the time we were returning back to our homes, many women were able to manipulate yarn and create a fabric, read, write and count. We were also aware of GBV reporting mechanisms. All these skills are greatly enhancing our social and economic welfare,” explained Gogo Edina. 

Some other women from the village echoed what the lady said; “we have Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) groups and now that we have been imparted with numeracy skills; each member is able to calculate the shares and interests… Furthermore, some women will soon be generating some income out of the items they knit like shawls and sweaters”, added another woman from the village.

It was further added that the GBV awareness campaigns that were conducted in the area also helped to improve men’s and women’s relationships in the community. There is tolerance and understanding and this is something which Gogo Edina called an ideal situation she has always been looking for.

Gogo Edina also returned to the issue of literacy and she laughed as she recalled a time when she relied on her granddaughter to read everything for her.  

“I am a dedicated member of the Roman Catholic Church, but my failure to read and write has always been a thorn in my fresh.” She said.

“I have always wanted to sit down on my own, read the Holy Scriptures and reflect. I never thought this could come to pass but here I am; able to read and write,” said Gogo Edina.

However, Gogo Edina explained that the small font of the Bible verses prevents her from reading effortlessly because her eyes are not strong enough to make out the words.

In her Lhomwe language, Gogo Edina jokingly said; “erimakilhowa yawi metho alha ehoneke” (people have bewitched my eyes, I am not seeing properly). She added that she is planning to get a pair of reading glasses so that she can enjoy all the Bible stories which people have been reading for her.

 However, every Sunday she happily sings and reads along the Christian Hymn Book. Currently, she travels by bus without being afraid of repeating the ‘1969 scenario’. Sometimes when she was registering her name for the government-supported Farm Input and Fertilizer Subsidy Programme, she was not sure whether her name had really been jotted down in the register or not. Gogo Edina smiled and said; “this year it will be a different case because I now know how my name is spelt.”

Soon after the January, 2015 floods which distressed a lot of people in several districts, YONECO, with support from UNFPA, implemented a project called ‘Restoring Hope to the Survivors of the Flood Disaster’.  Under the initiative, YONECO established Places of Safety for women and adolescent girls where, among other things, adult literacy and numeracy classes were held, women were trained how to knit and GBV reporting and prevention mechanisms were also being strengthened in the flood evacuation camps.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

A Visitor to Remember!

The founding Executive Director of CorpsAfrica, Liz Fanning, enjoying youth activities at Chinamwali Youth Drop in Centre
Young people who attended a Youth Function at Chinamwali Youth Drop in Centre will live to remember a visit which the Executive Director for AfricaCorps, Liz Fanning, made to the Centre on 4 August, 2014. 

Young people engaged in a discussion at Chinamwali Youth
 Drop in Centre 
In the company of the Principal Secretary II for the Ministry of Youth Development and Sports, the two visited YONECO’s Ntcheu and Chinamwali Drop in Centres where the youth gave them a warm reception.

Liz Fanning joined the youth who were dancing as YONECO Children’s Band was playing a number of their tunes plus other copyright hits of famous Malawian musicians.
YONECO Children's Band performing live during a Youth
Event at Chinamwali Youth Drop in Centre 
The fun reached a highpoint when the PS II for the Ministry of Youth Development and Sports joined the vocalists of YONECO Children’s Band after he realized that there was no any bass vocalist. No sooner had he joined the vocalists than the sound started sounding exceptionally excellent.

The Youth Drop in Centre was full of fun and the event was also covered live on YONECO FM.
Before the Zomba event, the Executive Director for AfricaCorps and the PS II for the Ministry of Youth Development and Sports also toured Ntcheu Youth Drop in Centre where they were warmly welcomed by a drama performance and a live music performance by Mazanje Band.

The Principal Secretary II for the Ministry of Youth Development
and Sports joins YONECO Children's Backing vocals at Chinamwali
Youth Drop in Centre 
On this occasion, the Principal Secretary II for the Ministry of Youth Development and Sports urged the youth to be focused and hardworking for them to realize their goals in life. He further urged the youth to nurture, unearth their potential and to be true leaders of today.

On behalf of Ntcheu Young People, Carol made a very insightful speech that highlighted a number of activities which the youth in the district are doing to enhance their socioeconomic wellbeing. In her speech, she also pointed out several challenges which young people are currently facing in the district.

Carol making a speech at a Youth Event in Ntcheu District 
YONECO established Youth Drop in Centres in most of its operational districts with the aim of improving young people’s welfare through the provision of recreational materials, Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRH and R), life skills sessions as well as literacy classes.
A drama performance by Ntcheu young people during a youth event that was
held at Mastimale ground
 Liz Fanning, making a speech to young people at Mastimale ground in Ntcheu district

Saturday, 25 July 2015

What’s in the Proposed Termination of Pregnancy Bill?

In June, 2013, the Malawi government constituted a Special Law Commission to review the country’s abortion law.  It was indicated that this was due to a 2009 study that revealed that 17 percent of all maternal deaths were as a result of abortion complications due to unsafe means which expectant women were using.  

It is against this background that this entry shares with you what the Special Law Commission on the Review of the Abortion Law has finally come up with and their recommendations on the abortion law.  We all waited for what the commission will say about our termination of pregnancy law and now it is time to hear it. 

Before delving into the issues, let us take a short diversion and bear in mind that the issue of abortion or termination of pregnancy - as some people always prefer to call it (though in essence it is the same thing) has caused debates. The debates have always been value laden. Emotions rather than reason guided the debates so much that people have always ended up attacking each other's personalities and circumstances ignoring the critical issue at hand. As is always the case in such scenarios; nothing prolific has ever come out of such hullabaloos.  

As earlier indicated, this entry is not judging or taking sides in this ‘chronic’ debate but rather, the aim is to share with you the essence of the proposed Termination of Pregnancy Bill which is to be submitted to the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs. As the country’s democratic procedures dictate, the next step is that the cabinet will deliberate and then it ‘may’ be tabled in parliament. 

Getting back to the real business; on 17 July, 2015, the Malawi Law Commission stated that the country’s law on abortion (termination of pregnancy) has been liberalized. This has been achieved after bringing in an element of flexibility on the restrictions so that under certain circumstances, abortion/termination of pregnancy should be allowed. Thus, in the recommendations, the termination of pregnancy is to be allowed based on four justifiable instances. According to the recommendations of the commission there should be four justifiable conditions where termination of pregnancy should be permissible;   

Firstly, the proposition states that abortion can be procured where the continued pregnancy will endanger the life of a pregnant woman. However, it is indicated that this will require recommendation from a certified health service provider who may perform a termination of pregnancy where he or she forms an opinion in good faith.

Secondly, the commission recommends that abortion can be procured where termination is necessary to prevent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman. Again, a certified health service provider should recommend or perform an abortion where he or she forms an opinion, on reasonable grounds.
On the third ground, the commission recommended that abortion can be procured when there is a severe malformation of the foetus which will affect its viability or compatibility with life. An opinion of a certified health service provider is required on this ground as well. 

The fourth and last ground for abortion is where the pregnancy is as a result of rape, defilement or incest. The Chairperson of the Special Law Commission on the Review of the Abortion Law, High Court Judge Esme Chombo stated that this fourth ground covers concerns regarding pregnancy of minors who are not mature enough for child bearing and also covers the increasing cases of incest especially where the victims are minors. 

Currently, abortion is illegal in Malawi and the offence carries a three to 14 years sentence. However, the proposed bill may lead into decriminalization of abortion based on the suggested four conditions.  A quick search indicates that many young girls have obstetric fistula and there are a lot of single mothers and adolescent girls who are failing to take care of their children who were born as a result of rape, defilement or incest.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Ntcheu Drop in Centre Enhancing Young People’s Reproductive Health through ICT: A Case of 16 Year- Old Cosmas

                                                            Written by: Mc Carthy Samalani

Young people who live within the vicinity of YONECO’s Drop in Centre in Ntcheu district are now in smiles for having Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRH &R) information at their fingertips.

16 year old Cosmas Malipa hails from Zakutchire in the area of Traditional Authority (T/A) Kwataine in the district. He visits Ntcheu Youth Drop in Centre at least three times a week. Among other things, Cosmas searches for SRH & R information using the free internet service that is available at the centre. He further uses the WhatsApp to have some SRH conversations with his fellow young people or engaging the group’s moderators. The SRH & R WhatApp forum is a YONECO’s initiative and the group is called the Youth Breeze.

Cosmas attested that since he started visiting and attending ICT dialogue sessions at the Model Youth Drop in Centre, his life has been greatly transformed. He revealed that a year ago when he was in standard seven of his primary school studies, he had two sexual partners. Cosmas stated that he has now realized, through Youth Breeze discussions and information he gets on reliable internet sites, that he was exposing himself to the risk of contracting Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) including HIV and he added that he could have also impregnated someone and consequently affect his education.  

Cosmas has now made up his mind to focus on education and vowed that he will never get into a sexual relationship until he finishes his education. He further added that he sat for 2015 Primary School leaving Certificate Examinations and he is optimistic that he will be selected to secondary school.

 “Thanks to YONECO for making SRH & R information available to young people like me and I never thought that one day I would be able to use a computer.  Computer literacy is perceived to be for the rich and those who live in urban areas but here I am today; a simple, common young person endowed with computer skills and knowledge that is enabling me to get important information,” Said Cosmas. 

With support from Unicef, Youth Net and Counseling (YONECO) through its office in Ntcheu district established a model youth drop in centre in October, 2014. Among other activities, the centre conducts SRH and R dialogue sessions with young people using face to face as well as other ICT tools like WhatsApp.
YONECO’s Ntcheu district office data indicates that on average, 40 young people attend various activities at the centre every day.