In the South western district of Mbarara, young people face a lot of Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) challenges. A lack of information, poor sexual and reproductive health services and low contraceptive prevalence compromise the health of adolescents and have led to a higher than usual maternal death rate, especially in the hard to reach areas in the district.
In response to this situation, Reach A Hand Uganda is establishing Youth Empowerment Centres. These centres aim at reducing these challenges in Uganda by empowering young women and men in rural communities to hold district leadership and health service providers accountable in order to ensure effective sexual and reproductive healthcare delivery, including maternal healthcare.
Emma Fokushaba, one of the peer educators attached to Nyaruhandazi Health Centre II, highlights some of the problems adolescents in the region face.
No one to talk to
“Teenage girls get pregnant whilst in school and this makes them unable to continue with their education to the desired level. I have also noticed that whenever teenagers have problems that pertain to their health, they do not have access to health personnel with whom they can share their problems for advice. Because of this, some of my colleagues have contracted some infections in their private parts but feel shy to go to the health post because they think the nurses will insult them. Many of us therefore seek advice from our peers, endangering our health and lives.” Emma said.
Young people raising their voice for accountability
In the U Decide project for example, the peer educators have been trained to demand for services and information from the district health leaders as a plus to the Youth Empowerment Corners.
“One of our colleagues Eliakim Niwesiga was recently elected youth councillor of Nyabikungu. He is using his position to advocate for access to youth friendly services in the district. Another one Penelope, also was elected as a councillor in Kitojo for her contribution to creating awareness about youth issues in the district.” Emma said.
Emma and his colleagues meet at the Youth Empowerment Corners to talk about the sexual reproductive health challenges affecting their peers in the district.
The Youth Empowerment Corners
In Mbarara, these centres are found in the sub counties of Rugando and Rugamba. Under Bugamba sub county, youth corners are found in Bugamba health centre IV, Nyaruhandazi h/c II, Ngugo h/c ii, Kitojo health centre II, and in Rugando sub county we have, Ihunga H/C II, Kinoni H/C IV, Nyakabale H/C II, Nyabikungu H/C II all have youth empowerment corners.
“Deliberations at the Empowerment Corners are led by our very own peer educators who have been trained in areas of sexual reproductive health, life skills and communication skills.” Emma said.
The centres are youth hangouts where young people converge to interact, access accurate SRHR information and services, discuss common challenges faced in their communities with guidance from trained peer educators and health workers trained in youth friendly services.
“The centres are designed to have a 360 degrees approach to youth empowerment. There is sharing of information and challenges both in and outside SRHR with one of the major focus being economic empowerment.” Helen Patricia Amutuhaire the U Decide Project coordinator explains.
Some of the peer educators have formed saving cooperatives and use these as a platform to share learnings and challenges with each other apart from the daily condom demonstrations, mentorship talks and SRHR services that they give out with support from the health workers attached to the health centres.
“Another key addition to the centres are games. Before anyone engages in the games, they have to play the Wheel of Knowledge game where it is rolled if it stops on the section of HIV, the young person is tasked to mention what they know about it. If they don’t know, the answer is shared with them and they have to share with someone else to learn what they learnt.” Helen mentioned.
The plan is to have youth empowerment corners in all the sub counties in the 35 districts that we work in.
“We have already set up 2 centres in refugee communities in West Nile and we are in final stages of establishing the first phase of our centres in Eastern Uganda. Our goal remains committed to supporting our peers make informed choices across the country.” Humphrey Nabimanya the Team Leader & Founder of Reach A Hand Uganda concludes.