Growing up in Mozambique is not easy. Two-thirds of Maputo’s urban population is under 25, and many of these youngsters are unaware of the health risks and myths related to alcohol, drugs and sexuality. In 2007, nineteen-year Nilza dos Santos took on the challenge of informing, counselling and educating her peers.
Ever since her enrolment in The Geracão Biz Program in 2007, Nilza dos Santos has been working as a peer-educator after following a 10-day ‘Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Peer Educator’ training.
“Teens are prone to many risks: HIV, involvement in drugs, contracting some diseases that could constrain their future. There is nothing better than summoning this group to learn more and without a doubt make the right choices in the future to be adults and people that may contribute to development of the country”, says the young activist.
Mozambican youth struggle with typical adolescent issues that are inherently difficult to discuss with adults. Especially true for subjects such as sexuality, dating, and relationships. According to Nilza it is easier for them to identify with a person of the same age, as they undergo the same difficulties growing up. “They feel inhibited by their parents’, or guardians. But while speaking to activists like us they feel more open, more comfortable to talk about any topic”, says Nilza. She adds; “We mainly focus on the ways of HIV/Aids transmission, because there is a lot of information which is not correct. To eliminate some myths or information which they believe is not true. And find out more about the changes that occur in their bodies; which of these are normal, which are not normal, and how to talk and bond with their parents.”
Informing and counselling
The Geracão Biz Program was established to bring information, education, and counselling on sexual and reproductive health to Mozambican youth under 25. The overall aim is to increase the awareness and adoption of safe, responsible and sensible sexual and reproductive behaviour and promote gender and equity sensitizations. Through peer-educators such as Nilza, youth are equipped with relevant information, life skills, and access to clinical services.
After the training, the peer-educators engage in activities to reach out. Nilza illustrates:
“We walk along the neighbourhoods, door to door, seeking to talk to parents, guardians, and adolescents, in schools or neighbourhoods via sms, e-mail and Facebook.”
In addition to giving workshops and lectures at schools, Nilza has been involved in a radio talk show called ‘Vida Sem Medo’ (trans. ‘Life Without Fear’), to reach out to an even wider audience. Outside the activities in the field, peer-educators are available by phone to give counselling through a local text messaging-project such as ‘Tua Cena’ (trans. ‘Your Thing’).
Nilza considers herself an activist in the face of a greater challenge. She explains:
“I joined out of curiosity, the desire to learn more, and give me a way to contribute to reduction of this evil which is HIV.”
Agents of change
Enrolling in The Geracão Biz Program offers many participants a first step towards an education or career. Nilza is currently in her second year at University, studying International Relations. Her experience as a peer-educator is a first step towards emancipation.
“Society sometimes doesn’t give much room for girls, so I grabbed the opportunity to be activist as a way to demonstrate that it is possible for the girl with education and information to develop the country“, Nilza says.
For Nilza a good peer-educator is an activist who will identify with the cause, feels what is happening, and looks at possible measures to pass credible accepted information. Apart from helping others, she has also received a lot support from her mother and her stepfather herself. She concludes:
“The relationship with my parents has changed, I have become more of their friend as I’m more open to them.”