Young people take the lead on issues that affect their health
Maputo, September 2007- It was after midday when Nelson Cumbe burst into the Alto Maé Health Centre. He had come from his secondary school and was still wearing his school uniform. Had it not been for the hurried way he was walking, so as not to be late, he would have been no different from the youths who were there waiting their turn to be attended.
But Nelson had not come for any consultation or treatment. As part of his daily routine, he had come to make his contribution to the activities of Jovial, a group of young people providing counselling in the health centre’s youth-friendly services.
Since 1988, 58 youth-friendly health centres have been set up in Mozambique with the support of UNICEF – out of a total of over 160 established throughout the country, in partnership with UNFPA, Government institutions and NGOs. The centres offer low cost, accessible and confidential health services, particularly aimed at adolescents and young people between 10 and 24 years old.
“In the centre, I inform adolescents and young people about sexual and reproductive health”, explained Nelson.
Young Mozambicans have been hit hard by the AIDS pandemic – 8.9 per cent of girls and 2.9 per cent of boys aged between 15 and 19 are HIV-positive.
Children and young people are the “Window of Hope” in the response to this worldwide disease. Their participation in designing and promoting programmes in response to HIV and AIDS is critical, seeking to ensure that interventions in this field are meaningful for themselves, that the information is communicated through effective channels, and that the messages transmitted are relevant to their day-to-day lives. Their participation in development programmes is a fundamental right.
Like Nelson, an ever growing number of Mozambican young people have been participating actively, using various means of communication to make other adolescents and young people aware of the risks they face.
In addition to the youth-friendly health centres, UNICEF has supported the radio programmes made by children for children at Radio Mozambique since February 2000. Radio Mozambique currently has 34 of these programmes distributed across all provinces in the country – 23 of them in local languages and 11 in Portuguese.
In 2005, Mozambique’s National Community Radio Forum (FORCOM) began its involvement in these child-to-child communication programmes. More than 350 children and adolescents have been involved in producing and presenting these programmes. Over the years, more than 34,000 children have taken an active part in live child-to-child radio and television programmes in districts throughout the country.
“One of the fundamental roles of our programme is to educate, inform and entertain children. These are interactive programmes in which they participate. We speak about several themes, in particular about preventing HIV and AIDS”, says 18-year-old Farida Ismael Juma.
Farida currently produces children’s programmes on Radio Mozambique since she was very young.
Community theatre is a another means of communication used by young people to promote behavioural changes in the community, particularly as regards girls’ education, gender and HIV prevention. In Mozambique, this approach has been developed across the country by the Theatre of the Oppressed Group, with the support of UNICEF.
“I perform theatre in the community and in the schools, to promote children’s rights and to make them aware about matters of sexual and reproductive health. Our work as activists is of great importance because it’s us, young people, approaching other children, adolescents and youths”, said 18-year-old Nilza Gomes de Oliveira Laice, who is a young actress in the Theatre of the Oppressed group.
UNICEF is also supporting the participation of young people in awareness raising initiatives in remote communities, through mobile multi-media units. These units consist of vehicles equipped with a video projector, a giant screen and a radio, as well as information, education and communication materials. The mobile unit also includes a tent that operates as a space for counselling and for group discussions about girls’ education, HIV and AIDS and sexual and reproductive health.
“When we reach the communities, first we show educational films about sexual and reproductive health, and then invite children, adolescents and youth aged between 10 and 24 to enter our counselling tent”, explains 17-year-old Marta da Consolata André, who is an activist in the mobile unit based in Gondola district, in Manica province.
“Very often the parents themselves bring their children to the tents and invite us to come back with the mobile unit. I have noticed, for example, that there have been steadily fewer cases of premature pregnancies among adolescents in the community”, says Marta with pride.