MBIRE is amongst one of the many districts in Mashonaland Central grappling with high cases of school drop outs amongst girls of school going age owing to an increased teenage pregnancy prevalence as well as an unprecedented rise in Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
By Michael Gwarisa in Mbire District
Owing to societal vulnerabilities which include poverty, ignorance, and proximity to illegal gold mining activities, both young girls and boys in Mbire find themselves at the receiving end of societal ills such as sexual abuse and gender based violence.
To hedge the young people in Mbire from further sexual and gender exploitation, SAFAIDS in collaboration with the ministry of health and child care and the National Aids Council (NAC) has set up a modern day Youth Friendly Centre powered by good internet and computers.
The initiative dubbed Information Communication Technology for Sexual Reproductive Health (ICT4SHR), is meant to connect the young people to new developments obtaining around areas of gender, sex and sexuality in a bid to arm them with knowledge and good communication skills using digital platforms.
In an interview with HealthTimes on the side-lines of a media tour of the facility, SAFAIDS ICT Specialist, Alaric Garanganga said the program had received overwhelming response from the young people in the area especially the girl child.
“SAFAIDS is implementing the ICT for SHR, this is new innovative under the young for real program. So Rushinga is a very hard to reach area and we want the young people to access the technology and then bridge the digital divide.
“So this is why we are here so that we build their capacity to use ICT to access information and also advocate for SRH services for the young people. We have come in as SAFAIDS to help reduce the high prevalence rate on young teenage and child marriages which are very high here in Rushinga,” said Garanganga.
He added that young people needed access to technology and information so as to be in touch with realities obtaining elsewhere as it imparts knowledge and skills to positively impact other young people.
“Young people need access to technologies and what better way to introduce that to them than by exposing them to ICTs. We noted that young people are the one who use mobile devices and they are the ones who use social platforms like facebook, twitter and Yutube.
“But if you can have a centre where they can come through and then come and get information and even also educate others on how to use ICTs, this is a place where they come and get information and then we can also help to reduce the prevalence rate of young prevalence.”
The program is being implemented in four wards in Rushinga and the program has seen more females than boys participating under a very balanced and gender neutral society.
Prester Muzeze (20) a beneficiary of the ICT for SRH program in Rushinga said she now wishes to become an ICT expert in the future following the inspiration she got from the initiative.
“I cam here at Chimhanda to do this ICT program, I was taught to operate computers, I am now on Facebook and I can also Google.
“As a young person, I can now share information with my peers elsewhere in the world. We can now actually communicate with others telling the developments obtaining in our district through social media. I want to proceed with education resources permitting, I have five O levels and would want to do ICT studies in the future,” said Prester.
Most of the young people at the youth centre are seeing the computer for the first time and testified that the program was a life changing one.
Clayton Biseti (23) from Nyamudziya village said he had never operated a computer before and is now able to create folders on the computer as well as operate a computer.
“I am here to learn computers, it is a blessing to me, for the first time I can now operate a computer and I can also create a folder on a computer.
“I am now aware of some information through computers and can also communicate with friends elsewhere. After completing this program, I want to also impart this knowledge to others in my community,” said Clayton.
Meanwhile, National Aids Council district co-ordinator for Rushinga, Eric Taramusi told journalists during NAC media tour that youths, mostly commercial sex workers and gold panners, accounted for 18% of new STIs.
“We had 922 STI cases as of the last quarter in 2017 and of those, 18% were from youths aged below 24,” he said.
Taramusi added that among the hotspots for new infections are Rushinga business centre, followed by Mazowe bridge and Nyamatikiti, which is frequented by artisanal miners.
“These artisanal miners are fuelling STIs among the youths around the district,” Taramusi said.