In Africa, and Cameroon in particular, parents and young girls shy away from sex education because it is still regarded as a taboo in most communities. In very conservative communities, sex education is seen as a tool to mislead children. However, an estimated 2 in 3 girls between the ages of 14 and 25 have had an unwanted pregnancy, contracted a sexually transmitted infection (STI), engaged in paid sex or become child brides. These problems in turn lead to unsafe abortion practices, poorly treated STIs and human rights violations. They are a result of non-existent or inefficient sexual and reproductive health education, cultural stereotypes, poverty, negative peer pressure and lack of self-esteem. Fortunately, with the right approaches, education can start to eradicate these issues.
Through volunteering at the grassroots level with the village-led, non-governmental organization Ntankah Village Women Common Initiative Group, I have had the opportunity to witness the complexity of these problems first-hand. That opportunity inspired me to give back to communities and help young people realize their full potential by giving them hope and motivation to do better.
Despite having little resources, we have managed to reach out to thousands of young girls, parents and young people through an interactive radio program I co-created and co-host called “Unleashing Youth Voices.” The program discusses topical youth issues to bring awareness of sexual and reproductive health needs. We invite experts for question-and-answer sessions and offer referrals to those whose issues could not be solved on air.
As a means to promote healthy living, we often carry out voluntary counseling and testing in communities, where young girls are taught the importance of positivity and making informed choices. These girls are also trained on income-generating activities. They are given microloans as start-up capital to help engage in meaningful and sustainable employment activities. The goal is that the activities generate income to sustain the girls and their families.
As a youth leader, I also believe that psychosocial support is very important for everyone who experiences the emotional conditions associated with stigma. Through forums we’ve created, people living with HIV/AIDS now have a safe place to talk and a support system.
The youth are the future of today and tomorrow. Therefore, if healthy living is promoted from a young age, we can pave the way for a much healthier future and a productive nation. That is why my sexual and reproductive health matters, and so should yours.
Che Stephany is a project field supervisor at Ntankah Village Women Common Initiative Group, a non-profit organization where she manages field projects that help disadvantaged girls. She is also a co-founder of “Youth For Change and Empowerment,” an initiative that seeks to empower and train young people to sustain themselves and their families. With a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication, she co-hosts a radio program, “Unleashing Youth Voices,” at Radio Hot Cocoa FM 94.0 North West, Bamenda. Stephany has over three years of experience in the community-development sector and is driven by her passion to help vulnerable and disadvantaged girls, especially those living with HIV/AIDS, those who are commercial sex workers and girls living with albinism. Stephany is also an alumni of the Young African Leadership Initiative West Africa Regional Leadership Center in Ghana.
The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government. YALI Voices is a series of podcasts, videos and blogs contributed by members of the YALI Network.