Michelle Grace Phiri is a 21-year-old undergraduate student at the University of Malawi; Chancellor College. She is a member of the Youth Action Movement (YAM) in the Family Planning Association of Malawi (FPAM) and also serves in its governance structure. In this article, Michelle talks about her volunteer experiences and the lessons she continues to learn along the way.
When Did you join the Youth Action Movement (YAM)?
I joined YAM three years ago while in my second year of college. This was in 2016 when YAM was introduced at Chancellor College where I’m currently pursuing my undergraduate studies. I had come across a flier on the college notice board by FPAM inviting volunteers to join the program. Since I’ve always been interested in issues around youth and development, I quickly enrolled.
I was one of the pioneer YAM members at Chancellor College and was elected by my peers to serve as the YAM Secretary for the Chancellor College chapter from 2016 - 2017.
Today, I serve in the YAM leadership at the national level as the YAM National Treasurer General – a position I was elected to in December 2017.
What Activities Do You Engage in as a YAM Volunteer?
I am engaged in peer education activities. I participate in outreaches which we mostly undertake in secondary schools and colleges. During the outreaches, we share information about sexual reproductive health.
We answer young people’s questions about sexuality by giving them information that helps clarify many of the myths and misconceptions they have. Some of the frequently asked questions include those around the menstrual cycle, safe days and condom use.
I also offer counseling support to those who reach out to me -especially my college-mates. Where necessary, I refer them for further management to the student counsellor or the campus student clinic.
In addition, owing to my work with YAM, my peers in campus approach me for information on emergency contraceptives and condoms. I often refer them to the nearest FPAM clinic in Zomba where youth-friendly services are offered.
There are times when I have met some of my college-mates who, months later, tell me that because of a conversation I had with them, or an outreach I participated in, they learned something new and changed their behavior. This motivates me very much as it assures me that my volunteer work is directly benefiting individual's lives.
What Has Been one of your Most Memorable Moments as a YAM Volunteer?
In January 2017, FPAM nominated me to attend the African Union summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as a youth volunteer representing the organization. This stirred the volunteer spirit in me because I honestly never thought I would ever be considered for such an opportunity. It was such a great honor to travel to another country because of my volunteer work!
While attending the summit in Ethiopia, I learned a lot about advocacy and the need to raise our voices as African youth. I also got to interact with YAM members from other African countries such as Niger, Chad and Zambia, where we exchanged notes on how to improve our work. It was also a good networking opportunity for me as I got to interact with notable African youth leaders -including parliamentarians.
I have also been able to travel to Nairobi, Kenya, to attend IPPF Africa Region statutory meetings. These include the youth forum and the Regional Council. During these forums, I have been able to gain immensely from my interaction with other volunteers and leaders within the Africa region.
What is Your Encouragement to Young People Regarding Voluntarism?
While offering your services to the community on a voluntary basis is certainly not easy, it teaches you a lot about the value of humanity. Also, interaction with people from other areas other than your comfort zone helps you realize more about yourself and grow you as an individual.
Volunteering also helps you learn a lot from the organizations you choose to volunteer with, such as the concept of work ethics. It exposes you to the professional environment and helps prepare you for your future career. I would therefore like to encourage young people to seek out volunteer opportunities in organizations that align well with their goals. I’m glad that FPAM is one such organization.
Maryanne W. Waweru is the Governance and Compliance Officer, IPPF Africa Region.