Tanzania: Creating safe spaces for young people to get healthcare services without judgement

ZAHRA, A YOUTH VOLUNTEER FROM TANZANIA

20-year-old Zahra Amri has been working with Chama cha Uzazi na Malezi Bora Tanzania (UMATI) since she was 13. Starting out as a Youth Action Movement (YAM) member, she then became a peer educator for young people and now works at UMATI’s Youth Center in Temeke district of Dar es Salaam as a Community Health Worker (CHW).

“Young people [in the district] face a lot of challenges in sexual and reproductive health (SRH) including pregnancy at a young age and Sexually Transmitted Infections. They also experience multiple challenges such as a lack of places to meet to solve their problems and parents are also a major obstacle to them because if you talk to [parents] about SRH issues like pregnancy, young people can even face dismissal (being thrown out) from home.”

UMATI runs youth weekend clinics at the Temeke center, for young people to get vital SRH information and services. Zahra feels that many things have improved around the area and with the introduction of more weekend clubs (youth meeting spots) they are able to reach more young people with the right information.

“There are several issues that as youth we must talk about, no matter what. The community and parents have myths and misconceptions that youth should not be able to speak about sexual reproductive health. But this situation affects most adolescents who face many challenges in life.

“At our clinics, we educate on gender-based violence (GBV) on how a young person can report it or if they are aware of cases happening. We talk about menstruation to adolescent girls especially for those who are living in poverty like those who live in villages or are orphans. Boys also receive education on how to protect girls. As girls experience issues because boys lack SRH education and they are being affected by peer pressure.”

The youth weekend clinics are supported by the Women’s Integrated Sexual Health programme (WISH2ACTION) offering tailored information and SRH services where young people can express themselves safely.

“As youth, we observe the weekend as a special and specific day for us to meet and discuss our issues but also get education on sexual reproductive health, family planning, HIV counselling and testing, and life skills to know about the proper use of condoms and protecting ourselves from different challenges.”

A drama production held at the youth center
A drama production held at the youth center

Some of the most important work, Zahra feels, is the work with the local Boda Boda drivers (motorbike taxis).

Boda Boda riders are included because most of them are youth, have relationships with young girls, hence involving them in SRH discussions could help reduce unplanned teenage pregnancy. They play a big role in the community and they have their own groups which can be used as platform to disseminate information very fast and they understand easily because they are willing to receive education and teach others especially on the topics concerning STIs, family planning, condom education, and also they like to be given condoms.”

At the weekend clinics, young people arrive as early as 8am on a Saturday. There are drama shows and a resident drum band who tell stories through music, with youth dialogue sessions and information on condoms and all modern methods of family planning integrated into key messages of how to safeguard their futures.

Zahra is proud of the success of the weekend clinics and hopes for a change in the way young people are treated.

“The weekend clinics are set special for talking to the youth in different areas so they could get services without any challenge. In other UMATI locations, youth meet on Saturday but for us here in Temeke we agreed to be on Friday because they come from school early and some others come on Saturday because it is a good day for them. They [youth] enjoy it and are happy to receive the education from us.”

“It is my hope that the community have now started to understand young people. This education has helped a lot of youth. Without SRHR education and understanding their rights, most young people could have difficult consequences. We are here to change challenges into opportunities for young people. We want a healthy future for all the young people that come to our center. We want them to know their choices so they can make informed decisions in their own lives.”