Chimanimani Youth Friendly Centre Offers Diversion Therapy For Cyclone Idai Affected Youths

IDLENESS is the devil’s workshop and with idleness, comes dangerous habits and uncouth behaviors especially for young people who are just beginning to experience adulthood. It has been scientifically proven that during times of disaster such as the Cyclone Idai that hit Zimbabwe in 2019, people can resort to negative coping mechanisms such as transactional sex, drug abuse and crime just to survive and pass the day.

By Michael Gwarisa recently in Chimanimani

Young people and youths are at their most vulnerable and disadvantaged positions during times of disaster. In Zimbabwe, the Cyclone Idai that ravaged the country in March 2019, left hundreds of people in Chimanimani and surrounding areas homeless, jobless and without any means of survival. Even though Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) well-wishers and government intervened to provide humanitarian assistance for the affected people, several families and individuals still remain exposed and vulnerable to various forms of abuse and challenges.

To date, several families and individuals are still residing in Camps that were established after people lost their houses to the floods. However, prolonged stay in the camps continues to expose young people to various forms of abuse with reports emanating from camps indicating that elderly people and some workers from Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) offering relief services to the affected are soliciting for sexual favors from minors, in the process exposing them to various health hazards and emotional trauma.

To take their minds off the Cyclone Idai disaster, it was gathered that people both young and the elderly in Chimanimani resorted to sex as a form of relief and therapy. However, this has had its fair share of negative consequences which include a spike in Unwanted Pregnancies and early marriages. In relief camps dotted around Chimanimani children and young people have also become subjects of verbal and emotional abuse at the hands of their own parents and other camp community members who constantly accuse and insult them (children) of continuously interrupting adults’ sexual encounters since there is no privacy in tents.

To rescue young people and youths of Chimanimani from the abuse and idleness, the National AIDS Council (NAC) in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have established a Youth Friendly Centre in Chimamani. The Youth Centre hosts between 20 and 30 youths on a daily basis who come through to experience the recreational as well as educational and skills training services available at the center even though female participation is still very low at the center.

For Courage Mutunzi (21) from Chimanimani and a member of the Chimanimani Youth Center and the NAC Young People’s Network (YPN), the Cyclone Idai had dampened his prospects of pursuing his dream of becoming an engineer as he lost his savings, livestock, academic certificates and Identity documents in the flood, even though the documents have since been replaced.

I was planning to go to the Polytechnic College but the money that had been saved for my education was lost and washed away during the Cyclone including my academic certificates and identity documents. I also lost the livestock that was supposed to be sold with the intention of supporting my academic journey during to Cyclone.

“However, through the knowledge I have received from this Youth Friendly Centre, I have embarked on a Bee keeping project and I have also ventured into Jam making. I am now working on marketing the products so that I get a good and ready market,” said Courage.

Courage Mutunzi playing a game of Pool at the Youth Centre

He added that as a member of the NAC YPN, through their interactions with youths from farming and resettlement communities, they have managed to rescue young people who reside in the tents who had constantly been complaining about getting chased away by adults and parents whenever the adults would be wanting to engage in sex.

Panashe Mawoneke (22) from Chimanimani said the Cyclone Idai opened up emotional scars that might take time to heal. Having lost close relatives to the flood, she believes the Youth Centre has provided her with an opportunity to heal emotionally and psychologically.

Panashe Mawoneke playing chess at the Youth centre

“At this youth centre, we are meeting and interacting with various other youths. We are interacting and we have various games that we engage in here just to keep us busy and to keep our minds off the daily miseries and troubles. We play Chess, Darts, table tennis and we also engage in sessions whereby we learn about Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) issues ranging from Gender Based Violence (GBV), HIV and AIDS among others. The Youth Centre is really helping me in a very good way. I am meeting other girls and learning and interacting with them.

“We can also share ideas and problems. Even when I am stressed, I know I have close people I can confide in. I have  completed my Advanced Level studies and I am planning to go to University next year, I have 10 Points. As you are aware, we experienced a Cyclone last year and we lost loved ones. I lost my relatives during the cyclolne, some who were very close to me but at times I come here at the centre and talk to someone who would have lost both parents. That makes us share our grief and comfort each other with the hope that tomorrow is going to be better,” said Panashe.

Speaking to Journalists on the sidelines of a Media tour that was organised by NAC, Mr Admire Takawira, the National AIDS Council (NAC) District Aids Coordinator (DAC) for Chimanimani said the Cyclone had exposed young people to several vulnerabilities.

Mr Admire Takawira the National Aids Council DAC for Chimanimani

“As NAC we realized that we needed diversion therapy for the young people who had become idle as we are building back better under Cyclone Idai recovery. As a result, with support from UNICEF, we came up with the Chimanimani Youth Friendly Center for young people where they can access Sexual and Reproductive Health Services (SRH).

“Here the young people can also access in-door games and also outdoor games and WIFI access where they can spend time browsing so that they do not engage in drugs, so that they cannot engage in risky sexual behaviors. The youth center also has a clinic that is run by the local council and they are youth trained nurses there who assist the youths for services related to SRH,” said Mr Takawira.

He added that the Cyclone Idai impacted negatively on HIV programing in Chimanimani as most people lost their Antiretroviral (ARV) medications, medical records while some developed mental health related complications as result of stress.

“Young people witnessed a lot of deaths. You can imagine children as young as 12 years seeing a dead person for the first time, it’s traumatic. The elderly lost their properties and are now staying in tents. In disasters usually, people relief stress by having a lot of sex which means sometimes it is risky because at times there won’t be any condoms available and no one really thinks about giving condoms during times of disaster as everyone will be focused on giving medications and food assistance. No one really thinks about condoms but yet people reduce stress by having sex.

“We actually have documented cases of abuse happening in these camps and through our community-based counselors, we picked an issue whereby an elderly woman, a widow who lost her husband had sexual intercourse with a minor in these tents. These are some of the stories we will be hearing through our community-based counselors.”

At least 7 % of people in Chimanimani population are living with HIV while the HIV prevalence rate is at 8.53% which makes it one of the districts with the lowest HIV prevalence in Manicaland province after Nyanga.

“Even though our prevalence and number of people appear to be very low on paper, we still have high infections amongst key population groups such as sex workers, young people especially young girls aged between 13 to 24. In every three boys who test positive, you find that six girls are testing positive for HIV.”

Meanwhile, Trymore Majokwiro, a nurse at Chimanimani Urban Clinic said even though there is evidence of young people engaging in sexual behaviors in the area, the rate of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) was still very low in Chimanimani.

“Here we treat the whole public including youths and young people. Some of the youths feel comfortable coming here to discuss issues affecting them including some of the most sensitive topics as well as providing treatment services for them. Some of the youth centered services we offer here include Sexually STIs screening, testing and counseling for HIV and we treat STIs whenever possible.

“In Chimanimani however, the rate of STIs is still very low although we treat some people of STIs who come from areas such as such as Machongwe who come here for treatment. Within our catchment area, the rate is still very low amongst young people. It is something in the range of 25%,” said Majokwiro.

He added that they also offer psychosocial support for survivors of the Cyclone Idai and those who lost their loved ones during the disaster.

“We offer psychosocial support for people who experienced various challenges that might have affected their mental health. Here in Chimanimani urban, we have the Village Arboretum where we have various people from different age groups experienced various challenges.

“Some lost parents during Cycole Idai, some are now single parents and others are now child headed families. Those people come and we offer them counseling so that they cope with their losses and probably find their way towards returning to normal lives.”

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