Young SMS counsellors in Mozambique share their stories
45 specially trained counsellors each dedicate 4 hours a day to answer questions from young people using UNICEF’s innovative U-Report platform.
“How do I know he loves me?”, “How do I use a condom?”, “Where can I get an HIV test?” – these are just some of the questions young counsellors in Mozambique answer each day via SMS. These 45 specially trained counsellors each dedicate 4 hours a day to answer questions from young people using UNICEF’s innovative U-Report platform.
SMS Biz/U-Report, as it’s known in Mozambique, currently has over 238,650 users signed up and is completely free for them to use. Each counsellor answers around 1,500 questions per month and has to be on their toes - questions can cover a variety of topics, from safe sex to pregnancy, or HIV to relationships, among many others.
We caught up with some of these dedicated volunteers, and their coordinator, in Maputo and in the new counseling hub in Zambézia to find out about their work and why they do it.
The best thing about this is being able to help people. There’s lots of false information out there, like ‘drinking black coffee after sex will stop pregnancy’. SMS Biz/U-Report is something I think can really help improve and even save lives. Girls could seriously harm themselves with bad or wrong advice and if my counselling can help in some way I’m happy.
This platform really excites me. Before, there was a barrier to being a counsellor because many young people would be reluctant to speak face to face. But this system breaks that barrier because it’s direct and honest, and completely anonymous.
I’m so happy to be part of this and answer the questions of so many young people throughout the country which just wouldn’t be possible face-to-face.
I’ve been counselling face-to-face for 5 years before starting this 8 months ago – for me being a counsellor is a very prestigious position. I always say that every day we come into the room to answer messages and when we come out we’re not the same person anymore. I learn each and every day.
With SMS counselling you need to tailor your messages for the individual you’re speaking to. We might not know who they are, but they might have registered their age, sex and region and this can be useful to know. You have to make sure you’re very precise and clear – especially because of the SMS character limits. It’s like cracking a puzzle and it opens your mind.
It can be difficult at times, some questions can be complicated, but it’s our job to offer support and try to point people in the right direction.
There’s no better work than helping other people. Being a counsellor really helps a lot – with SMS Biz people can ask anything and we’ll give them good advice, helping to reduce the risks of HIV for example.
My interest started at school years ago. We had a presentation by a group on sexual and this got me interested and at 17 I became an activist.
I really value this work and believe it really makes a difference in people’s lives.
I heard about this from friends and decided I wanted to volunteer so I applied. It’s something I do with love and patience. It’s not each and it can be difficult but I’m learning every day.
Our starting point is to provide information to young people, young people that can help reduce early pregnancies, reduce violence and HIV, things like that. This is really important and it really motivates me to do well.
SMS Biz is a very good system because besides being free it’s confidential and allows young people to speak up about any topics they care about.
Aida, National Coordinator
I started as an activist at school. People had to walk from school to school to share information but now many young people have phones which means we can quickly reach large numbers. Young people are more at ease with this because it’s completely anonymous so it can be more open and truthful.
SMS Biz/U-Report, which is supported by UNICEF, UNFPA and the Government, is growing very quickly which is why we’ve opened a new hub in the north of the country. These counsellors are all volunteers and we have no paid staff; without them, it just wouldn’t work.
I’m so happy and excited about this platform!