Hope still stands for us!

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Yunah Bvumbwe

History  is and continues to be our escort-without it, we are blind.Hence, the  past makes the present coherent  and the past will remain horrible for as long as we fail to assess it fairly .Our failures or successes  are as a result of how we react to our  history . My name is Yunah Bvumbwe  , i’m a Zimbabwean  youth   who strongly believe  in Comprehensive Sex Education ( CSE) and Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) of adolescents and youths because  it’s absence  creates a hub for all the problems that young people will encounter in their future . I also believe  that the empowerment of young people should be  holistic as this  is  the only panacea  in rescuing them from facing a bleak future .

I stay in darwendale, a farming community which is  a few kilometers away from Harare .
Darwendale is one of the   marginalized areas  in Zimbabwe  that have little or no  cooperation with the outside world , everything is dull, roads are  filled with dust and  faces  heavily stricken with hopelessness are the ones you meet up with everyday, usually there is  a somber atmosphere, it’s a devastating experience to be residing amongst  young people who  have no dreams, who are  hopeless and live their lives anyhow . 
The majority of young people in my  community are not educated, they have  either dropped off school at grade 2 which is the second grade in junior school  after elementary or pre-school because of poverty  . Most of them are girls who  unfortunately  celebrate their 15th birthday  while pregnant or they are already  married .
This practice is very normal besides  the fact that  in Zimbabwe   it’s now  illegal to  marry off girls under the age of 18 years. This is mainly because very   few young  people understand the constitution and the domestic laws in general  , whether  they  affect or benefit them it’s not their priority either.

It’s  also worrisome that by the time they reach  the  age  of 24 , a lot of girls have either three or four children, who in most cases are malnourished  and have no proper clothing  and also lack comprehensive health care  . This situation is heartbreaking  and a cause for concern,  the mother is uneducated, unemployed and worse off a dependent in an economic situation that  has made hope an  ‘expensive jewel’ , hope is a rare product to  think of now   ,  as an aftermath, she cannot afford to look after children properly or send them to school, they also struggle to give them proper shelter and clothing.

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The teenage mother uses old- tattered nappies  or worn out pieces of clothes that are at times washed without soap  instead of  disposable diapers  that are safe due to poverty.

The statistics from a local survey conducted, highlights that  children whose mothers  were married at a younger age, have very  limited education opportunities  as the mothers themselves don’t see the essence of educating their children.  This situation thus further perpetuates the cycle of poverty within the family.

Furthermore, although  Section (81)(1)(e) of the Zimbabwean constitution states that ”  every child,  that is to say every boy and girl under the age of eighteen years has the right to be protected from  economic and sexual exploitation, from child labor  and from maltreatment, neglect or any form of abuse ” it’s  unfortunate that  because of poverty and the current economic situation in Zimbabwe,  children are dropping from school than ever,  they  have joined the fast growing profession of  vending.  For example in Harare these young people  have mastered skills of dodging municipal police  in a’cat and mouse’ affair between the vendors and the municipal police where the former are trying to earn a living and the latter is chasing them off in a bid to make the city clean and return the  status of Harare as the ‘sunshine city’ , 
In my community because it’s surrounded by farms ,  children who drop out of school because their parents couldn’t  afford their fees  are working as child laborers in  farms where they spend long hours working  only to get as low as US$3 , a move which will also push them back to continue working as the money is too little to accomplish  anything. The situation is the same also for those young people who resides in marginalized areas surrounded by mines  as they  also offer cheap labor there  whilst others   have ventured into illegal gold panning. All these are avenues for survival for these young people who face a double tragedy of missing out on many education opportunities and are  being forced into  child labor due to poverty.

Furthermore, of  great concern is also  that the  rate of survival for children delivered by  adolescent mothers   especially those in marginalized  communities  are very slim.
Most of them die during or after birth, the  young mothers at times develop health problems  because their reproductive bodies have not yet matured to be able to sustain the baby for nine months and being able to deliver normally. The situation is further  worsened by the fact that the young mothers cannot visit the  health care centers more often because of the long distances they had to travel to receive treatment .
Complications  that might occur after giving   birth  include the tearing of the bladder which leads to  fistula,it’s  worrying to note that fistula   haunts most of these young mothers for the rest of their lives. 
Fistula in Africa is still considered a taboo and punishment for infidelity,  because it’s a silent disease, victims end up in isolation not being able to live normally again.  
At times  community health care officers will have to help the young mothers deliver at home, this is scarring taking into consideration that the mother may face complications during delivering that may lead to  both the death of the child and the mother and also that the health care officers will not have proper clothing meant  to equip them for  the midwifery task.
These midwives also  risk their lives to contracting  HIV and AIDS as they will not  be in a better position to know the status of their patient.
These scenarios are  a simple illustration of  how  paying a blind eye to  Comprehensive  Sex Education (CSE) is greatly affecting the future of young people especially girls who are more vulnerable compared to their male  counterparts.

As a young person who had grown up witnessing  these situations, I  realised that there  was really a dire need  to educate young people in schools about CSE and HIV and AIDS . It was not a  surprise  to me that a lot of these young people have never heard about the terms,There hasn’t been anyone to stand on the gap and educate them about it . That  is heartbreaking considering that from the statistics that  the Zimbabwe  National  HIV and AIDS  Strategic  Plan ZNASP(111) 2015-2018  and the national AIDS coordinating body in Zimbabwe -(NAC) that is committed towards Fast tracking 90.90.90  target by 2020 and ending AIDS by 2030  , states that 14,800 girls between the ages of 15-24 are newly infected with HIV each year . This  clearly indicates  that the number one cause of death in adolescents and youths  is HIV and AIDS and also that adolescent girls are usually vulnerable to teenage pregnancies due to little or no Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE) and  lack of knowledge on the use of contraceptives.

Currently i’m working with two schools,  one is a primary and  the other one is a  secondary school. The essence of this is to try and help  young people delay early sexual debuts  and empower them with vast knowledge about their Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights  (SRHR) and HIV and AIDS . Girls tend to shy away and want to dodge the lessons  compared to boys who are displaying great interest  in sexuality education. I think it’s because of how the society has socialized  young people notably girls  not to talk openly about sex related issues .
It’s also absurd to note that   Patriarchal societies like Zimbabwe  has socialized girls not to be more competitive by  emphasizing much on gender roles,this practice  is still rife in marginalized communities.
Strides have however been made  in other parts of the country  for example in Harare  where young people both boys and girls starting at primary level  are undertaking different projects  and are  actively   participating  in campaigns  to empower and enlighten them, it will be a great move to do the same for those young people in marginalized communities  so that they will be on the same page with other  young people  who are being enlightened already.

In marginalized communities,  school attendance for boys is higher compared to that of girls on a daily basis, one of the causes  is that when girls are on  their menstrual periods they  can’t afford to purchase sanitary wear,they  rather use cow dung, leaves  or small pieces of  clothes,all these methods  are not  hygienic and they make girls shy and  uncomfortable to attend school and because its the  biological nature of girls to experience menstruation every month , something needs to be done so that  girls will  enjoy  their menstruation and not miss out on school  . 
Girls also are not willing to actively participate  because of  the internalization of societal beliefs  that always barricades  their full academic development and force them into early marriage .  I strongly feel they need to be encouraged to be more  competitive  because that’s the only way that can enable more girls to be groomed into  a powerful force that isn’t  scared of  taking up  challenges and  compete for challenging sectors such as politics  and help shape the future  they  want .As it stands right now, the  higher you go, the few young people  you  will find there, the momentum is still very low.

Moreover, Cultural beliefs that  give boys an added advantage need to be abolished   and if the   full humanity of girls is not part of our culture, we  really need to make it part of our culture, after all,  culture is not a static phenomenon, it moves with time  , so should humanity.
I don’t really think that it makes sense to allow culture to stripe off our humanity from us, culture doesn’t make us, we rather make culture and also choose to  either make it rigid or relax it.
If tradition and  culture is not favourable to young people especially girls , we really need to stand firm, fight and reject it. That is how our present as young people  can be  made coherent, history has already told us that  culture that neglects and  subjugate young people, both boys  and girls is barbaric  so it  ought to be changed and I strongly believe that hope still stands for us  and change is  also still possible.

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