By: Emma Beck, Associate Communications Manager, PSI
Chief Stenala knows his community faces a challenge.
“I want every young person in my village to get educated. I want them to learn English,” Chief Stenala says.
The village headman leans forward, the crinkles around his eyes emitting a visceral warmth.
Stenala understands the potential his community can unlock by paving pathways for the next generation to own their futures. Access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) tools and resources, he recognizes, is part of that package.
Young people and their influencers just need to embrace the message.
Stenala, like his daughter, dropped out of school at age 17. In his days, the village headman explains, economic opportunities for young people were scarce, and access to health services, like the ones presented at today’s Open Day, were all but non-existent.
Stenala surveys the 100 village members crowded around a white tent in the center of the community event. Girls cram into seats lined in front, feeding their infants while listening to the Open Day’s main health presentation. In Malawi, some three in 10 girls aged 15-19 has had or is expecting a child. Among this cohort, one in five girls will drop out of school.
But with funding from the German Government through KfW Development Bank and USAID, Project N’zatonse is reversing these statistics.
Across 14 of Malawi’s hardest to reach districts with some of the highest teenage pregnancy rates, the PSI/Malawi-implemented project delivers Malawian youth aged 10-24 with integrated sexual and reproductive health (SRH) solutions tailored to how and where young people make their health decisions. N’zatonse works in tandem with village influencers like Stenala to harness the power of local leaders to shape how a community embraces youth-centered health practices. Since 2014, the project has delivered more than 1 million SRH services since 2014, of which includes 220 thousand modern contraceptives
Chief Stenala is a justice for change.
He led the charge to amend the community’s bylaws mandating that girls under 12 attend village initiations. Across some of Malawi’s most traditional and conservative communities, initiation ceremonies traditionally earmark a girl’s transition to “womanhood,” but in a manner that does not recognize her agency in making the health decisions that shape her future. “Married girls were being told to give birth instead of using contraception,” Chief Stenala says.
He’s also the stern grandfather for his now 10-year-old granddaughter. School, he tells her is, a non-negotiable.
He’s next to deliver that message during the Open Day activities.
Chief Stenala paces with determination to the front of th event’s tarp tent. He clears his throat.
“Family planning services don’t benefit me,” he says to the attendees. His hands dance as he speaks. “This benefits you, our young people, years to come,” he says. “I want to see a future where every young boy and girl stays in school. Family planning services bring my dream for you closer to life.”
Photo credit: Emma Beck, PSI