It’s all about choices!

Von Irene Bush / terre des hommes schweiz

The love and respect (OneLove) campaign is a regional and national campaign focusing on the reduction of multiple and concurrent sexual partnerships. Youth facilitators work with a peer-to-peer approach and through role models.

Mlungisi Nyathi, 24, is working since a year as behavioural change officer with Midlands AIDS Service Organisation (MASO) in Zimbabwe. He is responsible for a HIV-prevention programme targeting youth in the Midlands province. Mlungisi was selected to participate in the regional Youth2Youth capacity building programme in solution focused counselling of terre des hommes schweiz. In March 2011 he absolved the 3rd and last module and successfully graduated as “Practitioner of the Solution Focused Approach” with 20 other youths from Southern Africa. Irene Bush had the opportunity to talk to Mlungisi after the graduation about his work.

Irene: Mlungisi, you hold the position of a behavioural change officer at the Midlands AIDS Service Organisation (MASO) and you’ve told me that you’re training facilitators from the grass root level to cascade the love and respect sessions to the communities. What are the “love and respect sessions” you are talking about?

Mlungisi: The love and respect (OneLove) campaign is a regional and national campaign focusing on the reduction of multiple and concurrent sexual partnerships, which has been identified as the key driver of the HIV pandemic in southern Africa. In Zimbabwe it is being promoted in ten provinces of the country. MASO works in the Midlands province, which has 8 districts. I’m stationed in Gokwe South, which is 90 % rural and 10 % semi-urban. Personally, I’m working with the focus on young females and males between 15 and 24 years.

And how do you reach the youth in your district?

I train youth facilitators to conduct these social participatory focus group discussions. These youth facilitators invite youth in their communities to join the love and respect sessions. Because of this peer-to-peer approach and through role models the word to mouth propaganda works out very well. So for young people it is attractive to take part in these sessions. And of course it’s also crucial to involve the leadership in order to create an enabling environment for open discussions and positive changes in the communities.

What may a youth participant expect from these sessions?

Basically we provide a floor for people to discuss. We give information on HIV and AIDS, on sexual and reproductive health and rights, on gender issues and encourage youth to make a personal risk assessment. People make their own choices. But in order to make a good choice you need to be well informed. To have the opportunity to reflect and exchange with others helps as well in this process.

Could you go a bit more in details about what’s going on in these sessions?

Right, there are six meetings and each of the session has a specific topic. For example the first session is called “Let’s take stock”. We’re looking at sexual and reproductive health and rights, the HI virus, cultural norms and we also give information on the services for counselling, testing and care that are available in the district.

After giving these inputs we open the floor for discussion. It’s very important to have separate gender groups. Women and men meet at different times. Because the ladies might not talk when men are present and also the men are more likely to open up when they’re amongst themselves.

What other issues you talk about in these sessions?

In “Breaking the silence” we promote a more open communication between couples; we talk about and discuss equal gender rights that it’s not up to one partner to decide for example. Other sessions deal with topics like love and faithfulness, promoting the reduction of the number of sexual partners and exploring ways on how one can make this possible. Discrimination and stigma of people living with HIV is another burning topic and of course all the cultural aspects are ever so important to cover, as the people are really concerned about them.

We all know that most of the time information and discussion isn’t sufficient enough to change our behaviour. How do you deal with that?

You know what we have learned in the Youth2Youth program is very, very helpful for these sessions. We fuse the solution focused approach in all areas of our work. We take the specific manual for the love and respect sessions and facilitate them in a solution focused way, whereby the participants are always the experts of their own lives. We start for example by exploring resources and strengths of the participants which might be useful if they want to change their behaviour. We don’t give any advice. All we do is to offer adequate information and give a platform for exchange.

The participants explore their own choices. The information and discussions in these sessions might help to evoke a rethinking of certain topics and some behaviour. Changing behaviour involves the way we think, talk and act.

In this process we have helpful tools coming from the solution focused approach, like setting well formed goals, proceeding step by step, understanding relapse as part of the process and learn from it - to name just a few.

So you made real good use of the training you got in working in a solution focused way through the Youth2Youth programme, isn’t it?

Definitely! I mean it’s just a new mindset we’ve been exposed to. Instead of looking at everything what’s wrong or lacking we learned how to focus on strengths and resources that are already there. And as minimal that they might be, it gives you base to work on. By being aware of these resources you might even increase them and go from there to head towards a good solution for your problem.

It sounds very convincing. Do you have already some results from these love and respect sessions? Would you say they are successful? And what tells you that they are successful?

Since we’ve started last April the number of visits in our offices for counselling has increased, as well as the number of people coming for HIV-testing. The use of condoms has also increased.

We’ve noticed too, that there is a growing number of leader speaking openly against stigma and discrimination of people living with HIV.

We’ve just had the 5th graduation for youth facilitators and the youth participants of the love and respect sessions have a higher self-esteem and are ever so motivated to stay involved even after completing all the sessions. Together with them we organise events like the community field days, youth tournaments and entertainment like drama, poetry and public speaking. So yes, I would say that we’re moving in the right direction.

Thank you, Mlungisi for this interview.

* Irene Bush is in charge of the Desk for Psychosocial Support and Coordinator of the Youth2Youth Regional Programme Africa at terre des hommes schweiz. Contact: i.bush@terredeshommes.ch, www.terredeshommes.ch http://www.terredeshommes.ch


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