News

Young people reach out to the most vulnerable

12 April 2017

Young people in Tanzania are not sitting around waiting for things to happen; they have become proactive members of society driving change. Sada Mohamed Zahran is a volunteer with UNFPA partner Zanzibar Youth Education Environment Development Support Association (ZAYEDESA) in Pemba working as an outreach peer educator.

“When I heard that I had been picked to work with ZAYEDESA I was delighted. The organization is well-respected and appreciated in the community here, especially among young people like myself, so it was really an honour to have been picked," she said.

Outreach peer educators assist ZAYEDESA in its UNFPA-funded programme targeting key populations at risk of contracting HIV. In Zanzibar, key populations include female sex workers, men who have sex with men, and injecting drug users. These groups are generally at a much higher risk of contracting HIV with a prevalence rate of 10 to 15 per cent, compared to the general population's rate of less than 1 per cent. ZAYEDESA works through youth-friendly centres where young people have access to information and guidance around their sexual and reproductive health and rights from trained counsellors and health workers, as well as a space to meet other youth, hang out and have fun.

“The first thing we had to do was to map all of the ‘hotspots’ where key populations live and work, and we focused on female sex workers. In Pemba, we found three hotspots. As soon as we knew where to go, we began our outreach work, which I believe has really changed lives. We provide a range of services – we do HIV testing and counselling, drama performances and cinema shows to raise awareness about HIV and address the stigma surrounding it.  We also hold group therapy sessions with female sex workers and dialogue sessions with community leaders and the media to reduce stigma. I have seen with my own eyes how this really works. I have met so many vulnerable female sex workers who knew nothing about HIV, sexually transmitted infections or family planning, and now they are attending  therapy sessions, getting tested and using condoms,” Sada recounted.

UNFPA has been supporting ZAYEDESA for more than five years, both directly and through the Zanzibar AIDS Commission, in its HIV prevention activities, focusing on reaching the most vulnerable and marginalized groups.

Sada concluded: "With our support, ZAYEDESA has reached thousands of people, including youth, who are at risk of contracting HIV with information and messages about how to protect themselves from all sexually transmitted infections. I am really very proud of the work ZAYEDESA does and so glad to be part of the team here.  If we can end stigma and educate everyone about the importance of getting tested and treated for HIV, I believe we can make Pemba, and the rest of Zanzibar a healthier, happier place for everyone!”