In the wake of severe flooding in Mozambique: Youngsters empowered to escape violence and HIV infection

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28 February 2013

Chiaquelane, 28th February - Over 100 youngsters and adults gather under a marula three. They were all displaced and lost their goods due to the floods, but did not come for food nor goods distribution. Theirs is not an ordinary meeting. They cheer and dance when the DJ plays a hit by a local musician. After the song, a question is raised: “If you had two kids – a boy and a girl – whom would you send to school?”

“I would send the boy”, replies one young men from the audience. Mafalda Manuel, the young peer educator who raised the question, asks why? “Because if you send a girl you will be wasting time and money as once she gets married that will benefit another family (…) but if you educate the boy he will be able to find work and marry a beautiful wife”, the young men argues.

After seconds of silence, a young lady in her 20´s, nervously says “that’s not fair, girls need to be educated as well. Why do you want girls to remain ignorant?”

Mafalda, who is a member of “Coalizão da Juventude”, a youth organization, used the question to spark a discussion about women’s rights, violence, reproductive health and family planning. That is part of UN supported activities to mitigate the impact of the floods in Chiaquelane, a temporary accommodation center in Gaza province, where more than 200,000 people were affected in January.

The idea to start these community activities came after an assessment made early this month concluded that young people, especially girls, are vulnerable to HIV infection and violence, therefore the need to work with them to reinforce prevention.

In the past two weeks, according to António Jorge, Coalizão´s field coordinator, at least 3,000 youngsters and adults participated in the sessions, and 6,000 condoms were distributed. Apart from debates, awareness activities including soccer games, traditional games and conversations around fire.

During the sessions, peer educators are joined by health professionals and members of the civil protection unity who help in responding to the issues raised by participants. “People are mostly interested in discussions related to early pregnancies, violence and HIV prevention (…) and we need to clarify more as we found that there are a lot of misconceptions”.

Jorge adds that “we refer people to the clinic to get tested for HIV or get family planning methods, and we strongly advise all participants that they should not accept any attempt to exchange sex for food, money, water, shelter or protection.

So far the sessions, scheduled to run until the Government lifts the red alert, are proving helpful. Jobia Chongo, mother of two, was attracted by the music coming from the speakers. “I was lucky to learn about different methods of family planning, and to know that people can get them at the local clinic”, she says.

Chongo, who like most of the displaced came from the flooded district of Chokwe, promises to spread the word about the awareness sessions and hopes that many will get clear information to fight myths and misconceptions. “They are people with wrong information and spread rumors. I also think that these sessions will “help young people avoid pregnancies, because here at the center they are vulnerable”.

By Amancio Miguel