For quite some time, many people and some studies have indicated that poverty plays a role in exposing young people more especially girls to HIV infection. Without affirming or dismissing the assertion stated above, a number of initiatives like social safety nets and other innovative strategies have been designed to support needy young people.
Upon seeing how vulnerability could lead them into temptations, out of school young mothers can borrow a leaf from a group that enthralled me in Nkhata Bay district.
On one particular Tuesday morning, I and some colleagues travelled to the western side of Nkhata Bay district. The aim of our expedition was to strictly have a chat with young people in Chituka village which is in Traditional Authority Malengamzoma’s area. The youth we visited at Chituka Drop in Centre that was established by YONECO had a lot of success stories that have come about due to YONECO’s Drop in Centre initiative. We had wonderful discussions and we learnt a lot in terms of how the youth are able to access life skills as well as comprehensive and correct information about their sexual reproductive health.
Just like all other lakeshore districts, temperature in Nkhata Bay is usually high and on this particular day, we decided to go out for an early lunch. We asked our friends from the area to show us where we could get some dry fish for lunch within the vicinity of Chituka Village which has over 200 people.
We bought nice fish from a young lady who only identified herself as Medify. We then proceeded to buy cassava flour, onions and some tomatoes from another young lady- I later learnt that her name was Grace. We realised that we had no matches and cooking oil and one of our young friends from the area escorted us to a small but well stocked retail shop. The young lady who was behind the counter greeted us and happily packed all the things we bought in a blue plastic bag and gave us some change.
On our way back, we asked our companion why everyone who sold us the items was a young lady. We wondered whether the men who own such businesses just force the young girls to handle the businesses on their behalf while they go around drinking. Bulande then asked;
“Do you think they could have been that happy if the businesses were not theirs?”
As we were preparing our lunch, Bulande and other friends from the area gave us a background to the intriguing experience we just had during the time we were purchasing our items.
With support from UNFPA, YONECO officers in the district facilitated the establishment of a group of single young mothers. Among other things, the aim of the group is to act as a forum where the young mothers should share important information about Sexual Reproductive Health and Health. Furthermore, the group is also effective as YONECO easily reaches out to the young mothers with trainings as well as capacity building exercise in a number of areas.
What we heard about the young mothers’ club prompted us to dedicate the rest of the afternoon in having some talks with the Alinafe Young Mothers Club. Frankly speaking, it was an afternoon well- spent as we learnt a lot from the individual members and their smiles and bright faces also told us a lot.
Now, a closer inspection on the issue of poverty and sexual reproductive health informs us that poor young girls are more vulnerable to unintended pregnancies, STIs including HIV. This is the case due to the fact some unscrupulous men use money and other material things as gambits to have sex with the girls by taking advantage of their vulnerability.
One of the girls from the Young Mothers’ club, Sara, summed it up all by saying that “it is difficult for such young girls who are in serious financial dilemmas to negotiate safe sex as their interest is to make ends meet”.
The young mothers are faced with a challenge of supporting themselves as well as their babies which is not an easy task for them.
The success came in after a component of Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) was introduced into the mainstream activities of the group. The girls managed to access soft loans from the VSLA and they all ventured into various small scale businesses that are now enhancing their socio-economic welfare.
One of the young mothers whose parents died some years ago, Medify Manda, sells fish and she is a reliable supplier of dry fish in her village. Medify is now able to pay tuition fees for her younger sibling who is in Form 2 of her secondary school studies at one of the secondary schools in the area.
There were a number of achievements which the young mothers told us and with continued support and encouragement from YONECO, the girls are bound to progress further and be able to raise their children without any difficulties.
During this encounter, I realised that young people have the potential to uplift their lives and they just need to be creative in their efforts. We cannot keep on blaming poverty for all our problems while we have the energy to do things that should support us. This group only stands as a model as they have proved that it is possible.
UNFPA has been supporting a number of YONECO’s interventions that are aimed at promoting sexual reproductive health and rights of young people. With support from UNFPA, YONECO has been able to reach out to young people with various SRH interventions in a number of districts including Chikwawa, Machinga and Mangochi.