22-year-old Nthati Thokoa is the National President of the Youth Action Movement (YAM) in IPPF’s Member Association in Lesotho. She is an active volunteer in the Lesotho Planned Parenthood Association (LPPA) clinic in Mohale’s Hoek district, which is her home area. In this article, Nthati talks about her experiences as a YAM member, her rise to the YAM leadership, and her vision for Lesotho’s youth.
By Maryanne Waweru-Wanyama
How I got to learn about the Youth Action Movement (YAM)
I joined YAM when I was 19 years old. I remember that day vividly. It was during celebrations to mark World AIDS Day at Mohale’s Hoek. While there, I noticed a group of young people sharing information with their peers about safe sex, HIV prevention, and other details about sexual reproductive health. Attracted to their messages, I moved closer. Then I moved closer again. As I listened to them talk about issues that affect young people, my heart was filled with total admiration.
After the event, I approached one of the members, a lady, since I wanted to learn more about this youth group. The lady informed me that they were youth peer educators from the Lesotho Planned Parenthood Association (LPPA). She also briefed me about the Youth Action Movement (YAM) and the work they do with young people both in and out of schools.
How I Became a YAM Member
After my conversation with her, I became interested in joining YAM. To get better insights, I began going to the LPPA clinic in Mohale’s Hoek to learn more about YAM. After doing so for a few weeks, I became convinced that it was a worthwhile initiative. That’s when I registered as a YAM member.
Upon my joining, I was taken through a thorough induction about LPPA’s mission and my roles and responsibilities as a peer educator. I then began going for outreach activities in schools with fellow peer educators, where we would provide reproductive health education to pupils and students. We would also take these messages to out-of-school youth in towns and villages in Mohale’s Hoek.
From my experience, I have come to learn that many adolescents and youth in Lesotho face serious challenges about their sexual health. They include lack factual information on safe sex, peer pressure, unwanted pregnancies, high HIV infection rates, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and lack of access to quality youth-friendly reproductive health services.
I’m glad that through our outreach activities to both in and out-of-school populations, thousands of Lesotho youth have been reached with information on reproductive health, which has helped them make healthy decisions about sex. We have also encouraged them to access youth-friendly services at LPPA clinics.
I believe our work as peer educators has helped hundreds of adolescents and young people in Lesotho avoid engaging in risky behaviour, practice safe sex, prevent unwanted pregnancies and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) including HIV, among others.
How I have benefited from being a YAM member
Since I joined LPPA as a peer educator, I have gained immense knowledge and skills about youth sexuality. I have participated in several trainings on adolescent and youth sexual reproductive health including Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE). This has expanded my knowledge in this area, which I have in turn shared with my peers.
As a peer educator, I have also learned about advocacy as our role sees us often engage with school Principals, community leaders, elders, Parliamentarians, policy-makers and other key influencers. Whenever we need to conduct an outreach activity in an area such as a town or village, we first seek the audience of the Chief, explain our mission and seek their authorization to proceed with our activities. Without the engagement and support of these leaders, it would be difficult to achieve success in our work as peer educators.
My Training as an HTS Counsellor
LPPA regularly holds training activities for its volunteers, including YAM members. In 2017, I was privileged to attend a ‘Master of Trainers’ workshop for peer educators. After that, I applied for a training course in HIV Testing Services (HTS) and was privileged to be among the few who were selected. Following the training, I returned to LPPA’s Mohale’s Hoek clinic as an HTS counsellor.
In 2018, the Ministry of Health held a refresher course for all HTS counsellors (also called lay counsellors) in Mohale’s Hoek district, which I attended. Aside from gaining new skills and information, I benefited greatly from the networking opportunity with other healthcare workers.
A few months later, the Ministry of Health called me for work as a lay counsellor in one of the public health facilities in Mohale’s Hoek. I feel so happy because I owe it all to LPPA, which first trained me as a peer educator, a master of trainers, and later as an HTS counsellor. I never had to pay for any of these trainings.
My Journey to YAM Leadership
When the elections for the YAM Mohale’s Hoek branch came up in 2017, my peers encouraged me to try out for the chair’s position. I was surprised by this, since I had never thought of myself in that way.
However, they told me that I had already shown good leadership in how I organized and facilitated YAM outreaches, and how I had demonstrated such zeal and passion in doing so. They expressed confidence in my ability to be their leader and with this encouragement, I vied for the top position. I was grateful when my peers elected me as the Mohale’s Hoek branch YAM chairperson in 2017.
YAM National President
In 2018, my fellow youth elected me as the YAM Lesotho National President. I took on this challenge because I believed in my ability to articulate the issues affecting young people and be their advocate.
My capacity as the National President qualifies me to be a member of the National Executive Committee (NEC). Being in the LPPA Board has been a great opportunity for me to hone my leadership skills. As a Board member, I am involved in preparing reports, presentations, engaging in research, as well as making strategic decisions about LPPA and its future. The role I play in the organization's board continues to be a profound learning experience for me!
Social Media for Adolescent and Youth SRHR
As the National President, I have purposed to ensure that more young people with health information by taking advantage of social media. This is because many young people today use different social media platforms as their primary source for news and information. One only needs to look at their different online conversations to realize that there is a lot of misinformation being shared among them. It is imperative that they have access to accurate SRHR information that will help them make informed choice about their sexuality.
To this end, we have intensified our use our social media activities on Facebook (LPPA Thakaneng), Instagram and Twitter to provide information and interact with youth from across the country. We have also used these platforms to increase the YAM membership.
My future plans
My work as an LPPA volunteer and as a counselor has helped me realize my passion; that of working with young people. Because of this, I intend to pursue a career in Psychology, with a focus on youth. My current job as an HTS counselor is helping me save money that will enable me to soon enroll for a degree course in Psychology.
Encouragement to other youth
I’d like to encourage fellow youth to identify credible organizations like through which they can volunteer their services. I am an example of someone whose life experience has been enriched by my volunteer activities at LPPA.
I have gained skills in facilitation, counseling and proposal writing, research, report-writing, community mobilization and resource mobilization, among others. These are skills that will prepare me adequately for the job market. My experiences continue to help me become a better leader. All thanks to LPPA’s vibrant youth program!
Maryanne Waweru-Wanyama is the Governance and Compliance Officer, IPPF Africa Region.