As young people prepare to take baton from the present generation of adults become the most valuable resources for our countries, the world over. It is already obvious that we occupy more than half of the world’s population. We are however faced with several challenges, if we are to be well prepared for this future role. Of such challenges, are the problems of reproductive health which include the high level of teenage pregnancy, early marriage, female genital mutilation, drug abuse and misuse, STDs, HIV/AIDS, abortion, rape, and teenage prostitution. These problems, amidst many others, need attention now, more than ever.
In order to tackle these challenges adequately, the “African Forum on Adolescent Reproductive Health” was organized from 20 -24 January, 1997 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to effectively equip the most active and dynamic segment of Africa’s population-it’s the young people. The forum was organized by the Centre for Development and Population Activities (CEDPA) with support from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
The major objectives of the forum were to examine issues and concerns related to adolescent reproductive health, provide a framework for designing policy and programme and create regional alliances and networks. Other included:
- Integrating gender dimensions into the adolescent agenda which will have future implications on the goal to achieve gender equality.
- Sharing of experiences in capacity of building and the use of innovative models by existing organizations for reaching and motivating adolescents to safeguard their health.
- Evaluating the effect of existing activities and using such findings to create guidelines for the expansion of adolescent programmes.
During the five-day forum, over 18 scientific papers were presented during the plenaries, while about 20 work groups an 20 workshops were held simultaneously in English. There were several others held on French and Portuguese. (For a detailed summary of plenary sessions and forum recommendations, you can contact the AHI Youth Centre.)
The African forum reached its climax with the presentation of resolutions and recommendations arrived at after days of fruitful deliberations. In her closing statement, Dr. Nafis Sacik, Executive Director, UNFPA, expressed her delight to be part of this landmark forum on reproductive and sexual health of African youth. She however implored youth, in non-governmental organizations to be at the forefront of networking, forming alliances to articulate for reproductive health needs, to mobilize resources, to advocate for action and to implement grassroot activities. Above all, efforts must be made to ensure the adoption of recommendations and resolutions agrees upon at this forum, so that they will be given serious consideration both at governmental and non-governmental levels.
AHI ACTIVITIES AT THE FORUM
Action Health Incorporated was represented by five young people and one adult at the Addis Ababa forum. The Ford Foundation supported the participation of four AHI delegates while the United Nations Population Fund and the Johns Hopkins University/Population Communication services supported one delegate each.
The participation of AHI’s delegates at this forum was quite a success because we added a lot of color to the programme along with other Nigerian delegates. Following is a summary of our key activities at the forum:
The Market Place:
From the first day at the open exhibition space also known as the “market place”, we had a large volume of materials to display at our exhibition stand. We had also prepared display modeling boards which we used to display photos of the activities of AHI with youth in Nigeria.
We also presented our song-drama “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome” which attracted most of the participant to our stand and challenged other delegates from other countries to make up one presentation or the other to attract people to their stand.
Every day of the conference, we had new people visiting our stand to ask questions, collect our materials and purchase the “Guidelines for Comprehensive sexuality Education in Nigeria”
AHI’s delegates use of promotional T-shirts and face cap was also very effective in spreading our message. Many participants were interested in purchasing them-but unfortunately we didn’t have any for sale.
Although AHI did not cover the opening ceremony because we had not secured a permit to do so at that time, we covered most parts of the plenary and conference activities from the second day to the end of the Forum. This recording has enabled those back home in Nigeria that were not present to have a feeling of what happened at the conference.
We also recorded an audio session of the Religion and Culture work group, which we intend to use as trigger during discussions with religious group when talking about adolescent reproductive health issues. We also interviewed various participants to get their opinion about the conference.
Group Facilitators And Rapporteurs:
Virtually all AHI delegates had the opportunity to co-facilitate a group or more young people during the conference due to our active contribution to issues raised in our various groups.
Songs And Drama:
We taught other Nigerian delegates almost a few of our songs and also directed the drama presentation by the Nigerian delegates.
When one of the Nigerian delegates almost get stranded for having an American passport, Dr. Uwem Esiet, AHI Trustee who led the AHI delegation took the very important step of going to the Nigerian embassy in Addis Ababa, to get her a permit and visa to travel back with us to the country. Also, some of the medications we took to treat ourselves, were given to other delegates who had various forms of ailment during the trip.
Dr. Esiet made contact with the Nigerian Embassy to host our countrymen and he was fully responsible for transportation of all delegates to the Nigerian Embassy for the Dinner Event. He was also the master of ceremonies and played his part well enough. AHI delegates made a point of participating fully and effectively in all the work and play activities at the conference.
The forum presented an opportunity to share and exchange ideas with youth from other countries. Their experience of reproductive health service at project site and other information gained from the discussion sessions will be shared with youth in our communities through various organized activities, and the production and distribution of IEC materials addressing youth concerns. This is aimed at increasing the access of young people to health services and education and to ensure the adoption of workable strategies for subsequent follow up activities.
Of even greater importance is the need for youth to be involved in the design and implementation of polices on adolescent sexual and reproductive health. In this way they will be better involved in the advocacy for and management of these programmes geared towards achieving these goals in our primary target audience in secondary institutions.
We must also assume that young people are sexually active, but must find out why those abstaining refuse to have sex. It might be due to the influences of African culture, religion or other societal influences.
As young people, we should learn and understand the basis for the doctrines in our religion and ……. against the other gender or other religious groups.
In all, the conference was a huge success. It was an avenue for young people from each other’s experiences and programmes concerning adolescent reproductive health issues.
Also the conference has proven Nigerians to be creative and dynamic people especially when we work in unity without discrimination. The conference has challenged us young people to “Take the bull by the horn”-and ensure that we are actively engaged in planning programmes that are designed to address our needs.