This week Gerald Kitabu interviews Dilhani Wijeyesekera, the Country Director of Restless Development, a youth-led development organisation on their participation in the new Constitution process. Excerpts:
QUESTION: The constitution is the mother law which can hinder or take youth agendas seriously; what is the position of the youth in the current constitution process?
ANSWER: A number of consultations have been done with young people in Tanzania but it is currently only involving young people from a few geographical areas, and has not been wide enough to understand the priorities and interests of youth from rural and urban areas as well aspeople with disabilities.
Q: How does your organisation involve youth in constitutional process?
A: Restless Development has been running youth forums in Songea, Mbeya, Iringa, Dar es Salaam and Dodoma on civic education, including sensitising and educating young people’s role in development and how young people can engage in the constitutional review process. In 2009/10, Restless Development supported the development of Mkukuta II by organising a national youth consultation bringing together 150 young people together as well as 83 civil society organisations to review the strategy.
We would encourage key actors coordinating this process to ensure that young people have an opportunity to participate in the constitutional review process in Tanzania, and Restless Development would be very happy to contribute its expertise to such a process.
Q: What youth aspects and programmes are missing in the current constitutional process?
A: The key priority for young people is to ensure their role in decision-making in Tanzania is recognised and enshrined through guaranteed rights to participation within the existing and future decision-making bodies from the village to the national level.
Q: Very often many organisations look upon youth only as target groups for initiatives, projects and programmes, they don’t involve them in their programmes. How is your organization helping youth to realise their potentialities?
A: Restless Development as the youth-led organisation recognises that young people have an important role to play in development and decision- making.
We also understand that young people have urgent development problems which affect their ability to participate. Such as 45 percent of new HIV affections are among the young; 44 percent of young women are mothers or pregnant by the time they are 19 and 53.3 percent of the unemployed workforce is young people.
So, Restless development helps young people to address these issues by building their skills and capacities as development leaders in Tanzania. We see young people as positive social actors in society, and through our programmes, we provide young people with the opportunity to lead by
training young people to lead community-based development work across 100 sites in Tanzania in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), livelihoods and civic education.
Other services includes ensuring that the majority of our staff are young so that we are truly youth led and supporting our alumni of over 2000 individuals to continue peer education in their places of work, universities and communities.
Over 70 percent of our alumni today work in public service – they are a testament to positive active citizenship for the development of the community and nation in Tanzania. Furthermore, we organise youth consultations between government, development actors, private sector and donors to ensure young people have the opportunity to influence policies and strategies, work with local leaders from village to regional levels to support young people to be included in decision making bodies across the sectors, provide career guidance and form partnerships for entry level jobs in public and private sector organizations to help young people get on.
We also make sure that young people including our staff, volunteers, alumni and target groups are engaged in planning, delivery and assessment of our work such as leading community based situation analysis, leading our activities, and taking part in our annual review of progress
Q: The Youth have many challenges today than ever before in history, with examples, how is your organization address the challenges facing them?
A: In 2011, our 100 young community and national volunteers assisted reaching 38,596 youths for accessing of quality sexual and reproductive health services; 2,800 youths for livelihoods and entrepreneurship education and training;, 1939 young people have been supported with career and business development advice; and 3,100 young people have been involved in receiving civic education.
Here is a live example of how our young people are contributing to development in Tanzania:
Mwanahamisi Rashidi,16, lives in Mchoteka ward, Tunduru district, Ruvuma region. Her parents died when she was in primary school.
She has always dreamt of becoming a teacher and passed her Standard VII exams to join Mchoteka Day Secondary School in 2008.
When she was in Form III she became pregnant. She had no education in sexual and reproductive health and was shortly expelled from school. In May 2011, she gave birth to a baby girl.
Young people, especially girls, are disproportionately affected by poverty and exclusion in Ruvuma. This is reflected in the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in the country. In 2009 Restless Development started a baseline survey in Ruvuma to inform the start up of a new regional programme to address young people's needs.
We identified that across the 74 partner schools we intended to work with across three districts of Mbinga, Tunduru and Namtumbo, only 13 percent of teenage mothers were returning to school after giving birth. The result is many girls are not fulfilling their ambition and the right to complete primary and secondary education.
Restless Development in response to a number of significant data demonstrating that young people were being left out, opened up a regional programme in 2010, and placed 30 community volunteer peer education over three districts. With their support we reached 4,000 young people through in and out of school activities to promote knowledge of and access to sexual and reproductive health services.
The community volunteers work closely with local communities who participate in setting up of the programme to assess local needs, establish community action groups (where they don’t already exist) to provide young people with a platform to organize their activities, and through the community action groups organize events and comprehensive training to young people, and local stakeholders.
Through the visibility of the Restless Development community volunteers, Mwanahamisi came to hear that there were young people providing education and assistance to young people in her ward. She approached Lawrence, one of the community volunteers for assistance in protecting her health and talk about her future plans.
After hearing about Restless Development’s community volunteers in her area, she visited two volunteers feeling that she no longer had any opportunities for her future. She told them of her dream of becoming a teacher, and her fear that this could no longer happen for her.
The team sensitized on the policy for the right for teenage mothers to return to school, and provided her peer education on sexual health including HIV and AIDS prevention, safe sex, and life skills, and provided her moral encouragement by sharing stories of other girls returning to school in Tanzania after pregnancy.
Mwanahamisi decided she wanted to try to re-enter her school, and with the support of two community volunteers she met with her former head master to discuss the matter. With discussion, the headmaster accepted her back into school and she will be sitting form four national examinations in October 2011.
Q: You have talked of safe sex but traditionally many women fall prey to unprotected sex against their will. How is your organisation trying to address this problem?
A: At least 50 percent of Restless Development national and community volunteers are females ensuring that young people in the community and community leaders are seeing female role models who can help young girls address the challenges facing them. We also ensure our male volunteers are sensitised and supportive of empowering women and girls as part of the five weeks technical training they receive before their placement.
We are promoting reduction of unprotected sex through peer education for young people, including young women and girls, in and out of school focusing on knowledge of HIV prevention, delaying of sexual debut, reduction of number of partners, and condom use. We also provide support in accessing VCT and sexual health services, and training on life skills to assist young people in making the right choices.
We also run community events to help sensitize community members, families, and local leaders on the problems facing young women.
A recent external evaluation by AMCA Inter-Consult in 2011 found that 94 percent of young people in Restless Development placement sites could correctly identify four ways to prevent HIV, compared with 65 percent in control areas of the study. VCT attendance in placement sites is very high averaging 75 percent (78 percent girls) youths out of school said they had gone for VCT compared with the control where averagely only 43.2 percent had gone for VCT.
We are working with village and ward level multi-sectoral AIDS committees across Iringa, Ruvuma, and Mbeya to ensure young people are represented at these forums, and are able to influence decisions for the benefit of young people in their communities.
We cannot do this work alone, and so we partner with other expert organizations to address these issues, and will continue to expand into new partnerships as part of our new national strategy launched in November 2011.
Q: As you fight against HIV/Aids, there is an increasing number of youth involved in commercial sex. What special programmes do you have for this group?
A: Restless Development programmes reach both in and out of school youth, while we do not have a special programme specifically targeting commercial sex workers we know that our activities like risk reduction counseling and peer advise, condom use education, and VCT to mention a few, reach young people involved in commercial sex work, since they live in the urban and rural communities we reach.
The priority of Restless Development is to address key drivers of the HIV, teach young people life skills to enable them make informed choices.
Q: Being a Country Director leading a youth organisation, what is your advice to the youth?
A: We know that the youth population is on the rise with 44 percent under 15. We have all made pledges of support to engage young people in development through government, donor, and civil society policies and plans.
It remains urgent that we engage young people as actors in development at all stages of our collective programmes, and importantly ensure we coordinate as a sector so we can make the best resources of our skills and expertise to scale up of support and delivery of quality programmes with and for young people across the country so that young people really can be the engine of macro-economic growth and development in Tanzania for the future.