Bringing Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) Services & Information Closer to Youth
Uganda has one of the world’s youngest populations, but SHR service appropriateness and uptake among youth is very low. They have limited access to SRH information and services. This has contributed to a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS and other STIs, teenage pregnancies, and its associated complications, including unsafe abortions, high mortality rates, and fistula.
Tackling the complexity of challenges faced by young people, the TeamUp program applies a holistic approach that integrates socio-economic, health, educational and infrastructural aspects to reach in-school and out of school youth between the ages of 15-30 years and their families in Mityana District, Central Uganda.
Gideon and his fellow peer facilitators attended the recently concluded Mityana District coffee day where they talked to young people and their parents about the importance of SRH especially during this time where the District has recorded an increase in the number of teenage pregnancies attributed to schools’ closures during the pandemic.
Kiwotoka Gideon, 22, Youth Club Peer Facilitator and Youth Champion under TeamUp program in Mityana District, Uganda, is, however, trying to change this narrative. As a peer facilitator and youth champion, Gideon teaches his peers about SRH. He also advocates for positive policy change in his community. Because of his work, he notes that he has seen a change in how young people live in the community. “Young people are learning about sexual and reproductive health and are also engaged in agriculture as business activities. As a result, many youths have become productive and are living responsibly,” he says.
Adding, “We have seen the lives of young people transformed, thanks to the information they receive from the partners. Many have changed the direction of their lives, made different life choices and stopped engaging in negative and dangerous activities. In fact, many keep asking when we will go back because they want to learn more.”
During their public sessions on reproductive health, with training and support from Action 4 Health Uganda (A4HU), the TeamUp Program health implementing partner, Peer Facilitators provide information on HIV, STIs, family planning, substance abuse and gender-based violence. “Young people like our sessions because they know no one is going to judge them and they can easily acquire the health services,” Gideon says. “During theatre sessions, every time we go back, we find new people, meaning that those who came before have spread the news and have also invited their friends.” Because of this, Gideon notes that more young people in Bulera Sub County are receptive to sexual and reproductive health messages. “I’m very proud of being part of the youth club and being part of the change,” he says.
Gideon is a geography and Luganda teacher at St. Kizito Senior Secondary School in Mityana. In addition, he is a patron of the school health club that supports behavioral change in sanitation and hygiene practices for young people in the school. The hope is that the students are given transferrable skills to improve their lives as well as their communities because it is through behavioral change that lives can truly be changed for the better.
Additionally, being a member of a Kibogo Youth Health Champions Club one of the youth clubs in Bulera outside school within TeamUp Uganda has also changed Gideon as it keeps him busy. “When young people are idle, they hang out with their peers in the neighborhood and peer influence can be very strong, but in a negative and dangerous way.” He says bored youth are at a higher risk of engaging in crime, drugs, and sexual promiscuity. “When you are busy, you don’t have time for these activities,” he says.
Kibogo Youth Health Champion Club has a savings component, hold peer sessions, and has agricultural demonstration gardens where they grow coffee, Maize, bananas, and beans. Last year alone, the club saved 1.2 million Ugandan shillings and have made a profit of 401.600 shillings from giving loans to group members. The club has presently started pig rearing and hope for an increase in their profits. Gideon is very proud of the achievements he and his club members have managed to reach and hopes to add to them this year as well.
Because of the work he does with the youth, people in his community have come to respect him and many consider him an exemplary youth. “Young people look up to me so I have to act responsibly and be a role model, especially to those still in school. People also know I’m a serious person who, when the time is right, will start my own family responsibly.”
Gideon notes that once young people are equipped with the knowledge, they feel empowered to make better choices in order to plan their future. “Most of us now choose to abstain or have sex responsibly. We also focus on our productive work because we want to pursue progressive and successful careers,” Gideon says.
As a teacher, Gideon says that he has been affected by school closures due to the pandemic, and credits the fact that he had some alternate income from other activities for having tided him through so far. “We have been able to make ends meet during this pandemic through agriculture, and have also continued to bring much-needed SRH services to youth around us. Teaching does not stop only in the classroom we should ensure that we transform our communities as well”
TeamUp Uganda is a multi-sectoral approach to development cooperation initiated by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and managed as well as co-financed through the three foundations of Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung (DSW), Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS), and Siemens Stiftung. The program unites the expertise, networks, and resources of three local organizations, namely; Action 4 Health Uganda (A4HU), Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung Africa (HRNS), and Whave Solutions implementing in the multi sectors of Health, Agriculture as well as Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH).