Improving sexual and reproductive health in Zambia
Zambia is the fifth youngest country in the world, with half of all people under the age of 15. At least twelve in every hundred people here are HIV positive.
Risk factors for youth include child marriage, forced sex and stigma around contraception and sexually transmitted infections.
Mobilising young people through volunteering
Groups of Zambians and UK nationals have been volunteering in the country since 2013 on VSO's International Citizen Service (ICS) youth volunteering programme. The outcomes of their sexual and reproductive health projects show how effective peer education, mentoring and youth volunteering are in settings like this.
Nyimba is situated in Zambia's Eastern Province, where 78% of people like below the poverty line. ICS volunteers consulted community members and heard that action on issues relating to sexual and reproductive health was a priority for Nyimba's residents.
Sarah Meath volunteered to lead ICS teams in the township of Nyimba, around two hours’ drive from Lusaka, where HIV prevalence is high, and health services are overstretched. Young people access health services less than any other group.
Over the course of twelve weeks, Sarah's team of youth volunteers:
- Established a ‘youth friendly corner’ (YFC) at an existing hospital that enabled an increase in young people accessing sexual and reproductive health services and information
- Recruited 11 local young people in the community to be Youth Leaders in the project
- Arranged training for the Youth Leaders in delivering SRH services and information
The Youth Leaders have now taken full ownership of the YFC, running services without the involvement of ICS teams. They also proactively began outreach work in local schools.
Working in partnership
Youth volunteers work in 12-week cycles, with successive teams working in relay to complete longer-term project outcomes. In Nyimba, ICS has supported two local partner organisations: Community Youth Concern, a youth activism group, and NZP+, an organisation supporting people living with HIV and AIDS since 2013.
Their host organisations attest to how the volunteers’ energy and enthusiasm boosted effectiveness:
Changing attitudes in schools
Basic reproductive biology serves as the only ‘sex education’ for most young people coming up through Nyimba’s schools.
As a result, ICS peer education activities on issues like safe sexual practice, HIV and early marriage and pregnancy can have a huge impact. The headteacher of at least one school has attributed falling student drop-out due to pregancy, to the impact of ICS activities.