Mine youths bound in purpose

Wendy Muperi
 

Situated about 14km west of Chinhoyi is Alaska Youth Friendly Centre.

Fourteen years after it opened doors, the centre has become the redemption place for the Alaska community youths who had been entangled in social evils.

With the closure of the Alaska copper mine in 1998, being the foundation of the town’s economic and social fabric, so followed its smelter once regarded the biggest in sub-Saharan Africa.
The changes triggered serious moral decadence as the population was left redundant.

Living in a ghost community which had lost the vibrancy born of Alaska Mine’s opening in 1959, sex became the major entertainment for the community which was bereft of recreational facilities. Youths became the major victims of the situation.
In 2001, five youths came together to fight the growing problem of abortions, sexually transmitted infections and deviant behaviours which had invaded the mining area.

They had neither money nor land but the town’s city fathers banked on the youths’ ideas for moral reclamation and availed a wing of Alaska Clinic to youths.

“We realised there were a lot of early marriages, unwanted pregnancies and infections. It was evident youths were engaging in unprotected sex,” said the youthful Trust Samatiya, the centre’s supervisor and counsellor.

People missed sports galas and bioscopes.
“To compensate they had unprotected sex which exposed them to diseases,” said Samatiya.

Fourteen years ago, the centre had one major activity they named ABC strategy which focused on prevention. Two years later, a component of care was added. The volunteering youths would join Home-Based Care staff in visiting HIV patients.
“Then there were still a lot infected people and we would help with chores. That way, we would get to appreciate the condition more and remind each other on why new infections should be averted,” Samatiya said.

Then came the Join in Circuit (JIC) programme where the youths began using pictorial works to advocate for good behaviour. All this time, the young men and women had no funding from anyone.

Determined, they improvised until an organisation called Batsirayi noticed the good work and supported them financially to strengthen their programmes.

Family Aids Caring Trust (Fact) then took over broadening JIC and the training of peer educators.
“They helped build our capacity to help youths in numbers, to reach-out to more from our target population,” said Samatiya.
After counselling, family planning tools would be available for the youths who came in. Those who need professional help are referred through special referral letters and receive preferential treatment at the adjacent clinic.

According to Nigel Mwale, a peer educator, the centre, through 15 volunteers and a dedicated nurse, attends to nearly 50 youths every month.

The majority of those served are females. The number of STIs recorded in a month has declined from around 10 when it launched to between two and three.

“The composition of churches says a lot about how men and women react to information. Even cervical cancer screening versus circumcision statistics prove women are more responsive,” said another volunteer Fiona Gasura.
Churches are still the major platform used by the underfunded youths to reach-out to their fellows and sporadically, when funds permit, they host sporting and music tournaments.

Although many volunteers gave-up along the way, the organisation is beginning to gain wide recognition forging partnerships with others like National Aids Council (Nac) and Pamuhacha.

Recently the centre was identified as the ideal community-based organisation to champion voluntary medical male circumcision in Alaska.

Moses Nyamasoka, Fact regional manager and Agrippa Zizhou, Nac provincial aids coordinator, concurred the youth to youth initiative has saved a whole generation from perishing.
“The trends have changed. The young men and women have been empowered and are increasingly making informed decisions,” said Nyamasoka.

“We are moving and developing and we look forward to a future where we have our own infrastructure which allows for greater flexibility in our programming and a future in which we have sustainable livelihood projects for our volunteers and other youths in general.” —Wendi Muperi

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