How youth volunteers are leading the conversation on HIV with young people in Nepal

Peer educator and youth award winner Mala Neupane. Tansen, Palpa.

Mala Neupane is just 18 years old, but is already an experienced volunteer for the Family Planning Association of Nepal (FPAN). Mala lives in Tansen, the hillside capital of Palpa, a region of rolling hills, pine forests and lush terraced fields in western Nepal. She works as a community home-based care mobiliser focusing on HIV: her job involves travelling to villages around Tansen to provide people with information about HIV and contraception.

“Before, the community had very little knowledge regarding HIV and there used to be so much stigma and discrimination,” she says. “But later, when the Community Health Based Carers (CHBCs) started working in those communities, they had more knowledge and less stigma.” The youth of the volunteers proved an effective tool during their conversations with villagers. “At first, when they talked to people about family planning, they were not receptive: they felt resistance to using those devices,” Mala explains. “The CHBCs said to them: ‘young people like us are doing this kind of work, so why are you feeling such hesitation?’ After talking with them, they became ready to use contraceptives.”

Her age is also important for connecting with young people, in a society of rapid change, she says. “Because we are young, we may know more about what young people’s needs and wants are. We can talk to young people about what family planning methods might be suitable for them, and what the options are.” “Young people’s involvement [in FPAN programmes] is very important to helping out young people like us.” It’s a simple message, but one reaping rich rewards for the lives and wellbeing of people in Palpa.