Taleka Makunje is among the youth who won a video contest on youth access to family planning from a worldwide contest. She shares her passion of youths rights and the award details with EDYTH KAMBALAME.
Tell us briefly about your background
I went to Chichiri Primary School and Stella Maris Secondary School. Then, I studied Media for Development at
Chancellor College (Chanco). I am currently working at Centre for Youth Empowerment and Civic Education (Cyece).
Tell us about the International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP) youth video contest that you recently won.
There was a call for youths from all around the world to submit videos expressing their views on youth access to family planning in their countries.
They received over 180 videos from different countries and mine was one of the best and was selected among the top 25 videos that won.
In my video, I spoke about how most youths are hindered from accessing family planning methods either because of traditional, religious or physical reasons. I went further to explain the interventions that we have been doing at my organisation to ensure that youths access family planning methods without hindrance and how this helped reduce early pregnancies and girls school dropout rates. Winning this contest means I have obtained a full scholarship to attend the 2015 International Conference on Family Planning in Bali, Indonesia scheduled for November 8 to 12. I have also been selected to moderate one of the sessions. The conference will be attended by high level delegates from all around the world, including Melinda Gates, presidents from different states as well as directors from major health organisations. This is a great opportunity to share with the rest of the world what Malawi is doing towards the realization and implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
How did you get involved in reproductive health issues?
I have always had a passion for youths. I love and enjoy giving motivational/ inspirational talks, encouraging them to believe in their dreams; to believe that God has a great purpose and destiny for them. I love to share the Gospel with youths because they are at a critical stage in their lives where they are defining who they are. You cannot define yourself unless you get the definition from God their creator. I relate with the youth better because my organisation is focused more on their sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR). I also advocate for them to different policy makers on their right to live healthy lives.
What are your views on youth and reproductive health in Malawi?
Due to their lack of access to SRHR services, the youths have found themselves in terrible predicaments which would have been easily avoided. These problems include early pregnancies, death, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and
HIV. Such factors are contributing to the poverty situations in their communities.
Why does your organisation focus on youths in rural areas?
Cyece focuses on youth in rural settings because they are living in hard-to-reach areas to access SRHR services. This is such a huge challenge and in essence, they are marginalised and disadvantaged.
No one should be left behind as we move into SDGs from Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). We want them to take part in national, global and regional SRHR agendas. It is their human right to have access to such regardless of their economic or physical status.
Tell me about the survey you conducted on youth uptake of reproductive health services?
We recently conducted a survey in Mangochi to assess youth uptake of reproductive health services. The results were alarming which led to our implementation of another project specifically targeting an increased uptake. It was discovered that only 33.6 percent sexually active youths are seeking SRHR services. This applies to youths in the age bracket of 10-24. It was also noted that most people have a negative attitude towards the use of family planning methods especially by the youths as they feared it would lead to reproductive complications; and because it is just morally unacceptable either based on religion or cultural beliefs.
Any impact of your work so far?
Our vision is to have a Malawian society where children and young people are protected, healthy and happy. We thrive to advance the rights of youths and children in vulnerable conditions; to ensure they are living their full potentials. So far, with the different projects we are implementing across the nation, we are proud to note that we have withdrawn a number of girls from early marriages and sent them back to school.
We have also prevented some girls from being forced into marriages they weren’t ready about. All this has been possible
with the help from communities who have set by-laws to ensure their youths and children are living in friendly nvironments. Our major achievement should be the change in attitudes of the people in the communities where we work. We have seen a shift in attitudes from harmful socio-cultural practices to upholding the rights of the youths and children.
What motivates you?
My greatest motivation is knowing that I am making a difference in someone’s life. Just knowing that my efforts are helping improve the livelihood of a girl somewhere is enough to make me work even harder. The girls I meet have been condemned to a life of poverty and suffering. They do not believe they can get away from their communities and do something useful. It is my opportunity to open their eyes to a life of possibilities, a life of beauty, joy, hope and peace.
What message do you have for youths?
They can be anything they want to be. They have the capability within themselves to rise to greatness. Women are strong, motivated, assertive and passionate; and that is all they need to achieve great things in life. Know who you are and live life according to that; never apologise for who you are! You are born great, you are a star!
Any last comment?
My last word is for the youth of Malawi this country is in our hands, it is our responsibility to steer it in the right direction. Find your identity in God and live a purposeful, healthy, inspired and motivated life so that we can influence our country for the better.