THE Zambia Interfaith Networking Group (ZINGO) has made significant progress in enlightening girls—and parents—on the dangers of early marriages and teen preganancies.
The primary focus for ZINGO has been education through which the girl-child could be assured of gaining knowledge that would eventually empower them both socially and economically.
Zambia’s history is replete with tales of discrimination against girls, more so when it comes to providing them with equal opportunities in school with boys.
However, there is positive change being recorded following the coming on board of key players such as ZINGO.
ZINGO and First Quantum Minerals (FQM) this year signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for which the mining company has committed US$60,000, for the project which focusses on building capacity of communities to respond to challenges of teenage pregnancies and early marriages in Kyafukuma and Mbonge areas of Solwezi by December 2016.
As the bi-monthly report for October and November 2015 aptly shows, the organisation has been undertaking life-enriching projects for the girls.
The report covers activities that were undertaken under the Protect and Educate a Girl-child Project.
In the months under review, 20 in-school youths were trained in peer education skills, while the project also supported outreach activities to ensure effectiveness of messaging and moving target groups up the ladder of behaviour change.
The project gained the desired momentum as it reached out to 242 parents and 172 in and out-of-school youths.
The overall project goal was to contribute to the reduction of teenage pregnancies and early marriages in North-Western Province.
The project seeks to facilitate social and behaviour change among in and out-of-school young people of school-going age by December next year.
Some of the activities include material support for in and out-of-school outreach activities, training of change agents, support to school outreach activities, village banks, parenting sessions, and providing technical support to community change agents and peer educators.
In-school youths from five schools in Kyafukuma and Mbonge were trained in peer education as agents of interpersonal behaviour change at Kansanshi Foundation, a corporate social responsibility (CSR) vehicle for Kansanshi mining Plc.
Through the training, the youths were enlightened in understanding the dangers of early marriages and teen preganancies and equippedwith skills that would enable them to discuss issues of sexuality with their fellow youths in their various schools and locations.
A total of 20 in-school youths participated in the programme in which a female guidance teacher from Kyafukuma was also in attendance to understand the issues.
The training covered many topics such as sex and sexuality, growing up, behaviours that influence teen pregnancies and their dangers, and benefits of education.
To demonstrate this, the facilitators arranged for babies between the ages of three months and one year to be brought in the training. The babies who were shared among the youths were also in the training and spent time with the participants as the training progressed.
The idea was to make sure that the participants concentrated on learning while taking care of the babies given to them, responding to any of the babies’ needs while in class.
At the end of the session, the participants holding the babies confessed how difficult it was for them to concentrate on school and on being parents.
Boys admitted that they did not know how hard it was for the girls who fell pregnant while in school. They said they would form groups to teach other boys in their age group on how hard it is for them to take care of babies while in school.
Furthermore, they also realised how unfair it was on the part of the girls who stopped school because of pregnancies.
The girls, on the other hand, admitted that it was not an easy task to care for a child in class and they could not imagine it in reality.
After being trained, the change agents were expected to form groups with their peers to help in the fight against unwanted pregnancies and early marriages.
The newly-trained peer educators have since started sensitising their fellow peers on the dangers of early pregnancies and marriages.
At Katandano Basic School, the change agents were given an opportunity to talk to their fellow students on closing day on the causes and effects of teen pregnancies and early marriages.
The change agents engaged all pupils in a highly participatory discussion. The other children or pupils showed interest in forming and joining such education groups to keep them busy.
It was evident from the discussions that many pupils were not aware of the dangers of always saying ‘yes’ to sex before marriage.
They also learnt how to deal with parents that force children into early marriages.
The school head teacher expressed happiness and thanked Kansanshi for training the change agents who had gained knowledge and were now influencing their peers in positive ways.
Mbonge has not been left out with the activities as the change agents have started sensitising youths in churches, especially that Government schools went on recess.
In Kyafukuma, the change agents were invited by the African Methodist Episcopal Church that had organised a youth meeting to interact with their fellow youths.
The trained parents were also part of the meeting to sensitise the 38 youths that had gathered to benefit from topics that included dangers of early marriages, early pregnancies and alcohol abuse.
During this session, the youths were taken through the 10 ways young people can avoid unwanted sex.
To know their limits, the youths were encouraged to learn to say ‘no’ to sex before the right time.
The session was highly interactive as the boys had an opportunity to share with everybody how they felt about the behaviour of some girls, particularly their dressing, and talk which enticed boys into having sex with them.
They added that some girls were very desperate to get married.
The church thanked ZINGO and Kansanshi Mining Plc through Kansanshi Foundation for the initiative which was aimed at enlightening community members on the dangers of teenage pregnancies and early marriages.
During the period under review, the community-based facilitators continued carrying out outreach activities in Mbonge and Kyafukuma.
With the support from village and church leaders, communities are now responding to the messages that are being disseminated.
This has encouraged the community members to start reporting cases to the ZINGO community-based facilitators whenever they see any poor communication between parents and children.
During the routine door-to-door facilitation on positive parenting and protecting the girl-child in Mbonge, it was discovered that one family had married off their daughter.
This is a case in which a 22-year-old man was forcefully asked to marry a girl aged 16.
The young man is a Grade 11 drop-out currently working as a taxi driver while the girl was in Grade 8 under the Kansanshi school sponsorship programme at Mbonge Basic School.
Community facilitators have been trained to deal with such issues and how to correct the situation to prevent the children from further destruction.
The parents were called to analyse the situation at hand in the presence of their children. It emerged during the discussion that the boy’s parents did not support the idea to marry off children at that age, while the girl’s parents liked it and wanted their daughter to get married
In the light of such challenges, the community-based facilitators in Kyafukuma have taken advantage of church gatherings where they have started conducting sessions on parenting.
During a women’s fellowship at Kyafukuma Living Mission Ministries, the members were taken through the dangers of early marriages for young girls.
The topic stimulated high interest because it was the first time such social programmes were brought into the church.
As a result, the facilitators were encouraged to make a work plan for churches so that they could continue conducting such lessons once or twice a month.
During a door-to-door programme on early marriages and early pregnancies in Lusambo Village in Kyafukuma, some families visited observed that the leading cause of early pregnancies was lack of recreational facilities in the area.
A ZINGO project field officer has continued to monitor all activities implemented in Mbonge and Kyafukuma.
The officer is now monitoring community-based facilitators and peer educators who were recently trained to deal with in-school youths.
The project recommended that the traditional leadership be asked to replace harmful traditional practices that put girls and women at risk of contracting HIV, early marriages and teen pregnancies with good practices that would empower women and girls to excel in education and pursue better profession.
It was further recommended that a road show activity in the two villages where all volunteers should participate needed to be held.
Formation of sports clubs for girls could help in making them busy.
Forming more village banks would allow for the smooth running of the programme as parents would be busy running small businesses.
The village banks would also serve as a good platform for discussions on teen pregnancies and early marriages.
In all these efforts, ZINGO, working closely with Kansanshi Mining Plc, has proved that it is determined to protect the girl-child from harmful traditional practices, as well as to champion education for the girls to ensure a prosperous future for them.-Feature courtesy of SUMA SYSTEMS.