She is only 19 and before the pandemic she was in lower secondary, a promising and beautiful girl whose dream is to become a footballer, she loves film acting too. But since last year when they opened schools, Uwase (not her real name) has not returned to school, she has to first take care of her baby, she is now a teenage mother.
Umuhoza, 17 dropped from school in 2019 to allow her sister to complete ordinary level, was expected to go back to school in the following year, in march, 2020 the first lockdown to contain covid-19 in the country was declared, schools closed and movements restricted, meeting her peers who would share with her tips about their adolescent health was restricted, she now nurses her three months baby.
The covid-19 pandemic shocked the economies and different sectors such as transport, aviation, hospitality endured the pandemic shudders as lockdowns, restrictions of movements, social gathering across the world we put in place to prevent the spread of the virus, loss of jobs and a fall in the households incomes triggered uncertainty in homes, youths especially had their share on the effects of the pandemic.
As schools closed down and restrictions on movements and gathering continued, youths were redundant and most could not reach youth centers where they could get information on behavioral and reproductive health education. Moreover, some programs on several media such radio all adjusted to information to help people fight the covid-19.
“Most youth shy away from going to a health facility to seek these services, some think they may meet people they know there or even their parents, so the centers are their friend who can keep their secrets,” said says Theogene Iyakaremye, a nurse at Fumbwe health Post.
Youths especially in urban centers were accessing behavioral change and reproductive health services and products such as birth control information and condoms.
“These young people knew that they are not going to get information they have been getting from the Centre due to lockdowns that would restrict movements and social gathering,” said Omar Tony Nsengumuremyi, coordinator of Rafiki Youth friendly club in Nyamirambo in Kigali.
Like Uwase and Umuhoza, youths indulged in unsafe sex during the pandemic and ministry of Gender statistics indicate that 19,701 girls gave birth between January and December 2020 but the numbers reduced when compared to 23,628 girls in 2019.
“I personally wanted to know the reasons what the reasons were behind the decrease in the figures……….” an official from the ministry told local media in May this year.
But to Nsengumuremyi and other youth coordinators across the country already know the reason, it’s very clear, the use of sound system for mass mobilization during the pandemic.
“What we did was to set out with a sound system, as we played information on the prevention of the spread of covid-19, we would bring out also behavioral change packages such avoiding unsafe sex which would result in unplanned pregnancies,” he said
Accordingly, information that the youths would be accessing at the youth friendly center would be packaged and delivered during the drive and this helped most youth to keep informed about HIV prevention and unwanted pregnancies.
“Most youths were always willing to listen to the message and others would come privately to ask us for condoms, others would get our numbers to ask questions on sexual myths such as you have to have sex to grow hips and bums,” said Theogene Vuguzigama from Yego youth Center, Nyanza district.
The sound systems donated by SFH Rwanda to youth centers across the country have created impact in terms of behavioral change communication among the youth especially during the pandemic. The systems helped centers to reach youths and other people at village level to disseminate information about HIV prevention, safe sex and teenage pregnancy which helped the country bring down teenage pregnancies.
For example at Rafiki youth friendly club in Kigali, only 6000 youths tested for HIV indicating the reduction in unsafe sex from 9000 previously, 421 girls came for pregnancy test from 868 girls.
At Nyanza center over 600 youths accessed behavioral change information packages and products at Nyanza youth centre by the end of September, 2021. Around 80 new youths have joined the dancing and film classes in the first six months at Fumbwe Yego youth Centre.
With this mobilization, most youths went for HIV and pregnancy testing and access to other reproductive health products, “so you can from these numbers see the impact of the sound system,” he adds
In Nyanza district at Yego youth centers which also used sound system, the number of youth seeking health services including visits to youth center for talent promotion increased, with numbers tripling in 2021.
Apart from behavioral change, the centers as also use the sound system in their activities such as talent promotion like dancing, music, public speaking, film and theatre which help youths use their free time in a reproductive way as well as keep them safe from illicit behaviors.
“I wasn’t confident of myself and this made me belittle myself but when I passed by Rafiki and had music playing, I decided to check in and since then my life has changed,” said Judith Uwamahoro,14 a senior two student.
For Nadine Mutoniwase from Fumbwe sector in Rwamagana district that dropped out of school could not realize she would chase her dream for film acting and design, but the sound system at Fumbwe yego center directed her path.
“I had my favorite music playing on a loud speaker at the centre when I went there they explained about the activities they have for youth, now am already doing dancing and film acting,” she said adding, “I completed tailoring am looking forward to pursuing my fashion and design dream.
With the ease of restrictions, Evariste Maniriho, Coordinator for Fumbwe Youth center says that the mass mobilization through using sound system will continue to reach more villages that are far from the center to sensitize more youths especially on reproductive health behavioral change and talent promotion.