Recently, student Burton Motoh and singer-songwriter Neda Boin traveled to eastern DR Congo with Cordaid. They visited youth and health centers and met the peer educators and teenagers we work with in our Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare and Rights program. How did they experience DR Congo? And what advice do they have for the new Dutch Youth Ambassador SRHR, Sanne Thijssen?
Inviting both Neda and Burton to come along and visit our SRHR work in DR Congo was an obvious – and happy – thing to do: Neda being a very socially committed artist who traveled all over Africa and India, combining gigs with development work. And Burton being the winner of this year’s Cordaid Profielwerkstukprijs – an award for the most socially committed high school research project. His research focused on the rampant forms of sexual violence against women in India.
It was great to see how boys and girls in the centers we visited showed such openness and seriousness.
Burton Motoh, award-winning student
Burton, it was your first time in DR Congo. What impressed you most?
“Sexuality is still a huge taboo. There’s hardly a way for teenagers in DR Congo to freely discuss it and find the right information. And yet the need to discuss it and make informed choices is huge, as the number of teenage pregnancies shows. Girls who get pregnant drop out from school and have their future more or less taken away from them. That’s why it was great to see how boys and girls in the centers we visited showed such openness and seriousness to discuss topics like HIV/aids, sex, unwanted pregnancies and the need for family planning. How song, theater and peer education were all used in a very natural way to talk about topics that most grown-ups – teachers, leaders, parents – would rather like to keep a taboo.”
What was the biggest taboo when it comes to sex?
“To discuss sex with parents. For most of the young people I met, that was just a bridge too far. So many of them told me ‘Later, when I have kids, I will not do like my parents did; instead, I will definitely talk about sexuality matters with my children!’”
Do Dutch boys and girls talk about sex in a different way than their Congolese peers?
“In Dutch schools, sex education is much more integrated in school curricula. But the funny thing is that in Holland they still talk about in a giggly way, whereas in DR Congo teenagers are more open and serious when they talk about sex.”
Her baby was named after me, Neda. That’s a real present.
Neda Boin, singer-songwriter
Neda, you’ve traveled a lot. What was special about this trip?
“The greatest thing was meeting Maria in a health center in Bukavu. This 22-year-old mother of three had just given birth to her fourth child. We connected immediately; it felt like our friendship went back a long time. Just imagine, she didn’t have the 13 dollar needed to leave the hospital and that worried her. Of course I helped her out, not out of a feeling of guilt or desperation but out of the love I felt. I have traveled a lot like you said and have seen a lot of poverty. It doesn’t blow me away anymore like it used to do. Now I can stand on my feet and feel connected to the people I meet and share a part of me with them without losing myself. Maria never went to school, lives in sheer poverty, doesn’t know how she will raise her kids – her husband was far away trying to earn a living for his wife and kids. Yet she sparkled, was positive and believes in the dream of setting up her own small clothing business. In my own small way, I want to help her out with that if I can. Of course we discussed what women discuss. She even asked for advice and tricks how not to become pregnant anymore. Still now, back in Holland, our friendship continues by phone or WhatsApp. We hardly speak a common language, but who cares! And you know what, her baby was named after me, Neda. That’s a real present.”
What’s the difference between being young in the Netherlands and in the DR Congo, when it comes to sex education?
“The smartphone! In Holland, every boy and girl can find out everything about sex, how not to get pregnant, how to avoid STIs, simply by checking his or her smartphone, hidden in his or her own little corner. And we all do that, because who did ever pay real attention during that one biology class? But in the villages we visited, people have no smartphones to check things out. That’s also why so many of the boys and girls still believe in crazy myths, like ‘you can only get aids from having sex with a blond woman’ or ‘eating chicken during 30 days cures you from HIV’. On the other hand, in the youth centers we visited they talk about sex without any shame or shyness. They don’t need the secrecy and anonymity of the internet; they express themselves freely and openly. It was great to witness that and it’s something Dutch youngsters can learn from.”
On Thursday, you’re going to meet the new SRHR youth ambassador. What would you like to share with her?
“I’d advise her to listen and mingle with more than just the high-educated young people from the ministries or the NGOs. Go to the prisons, the slums in Kenya, the villages where no one has internet, the community centers for the homeless or other less privileged young people in Holland. Listen to them. It might give you a lot of insights. And warmth.”
I’d advise her to listen and mingle with more than just the high-educated young people from the ministries or the NGOs.
Neda Boin, singer-songwriter
Any chance there will be a new song about your DR Congo experience soon?
“Undoubtedly. Music is my way living and some people in DR Congo have touched my soul, so that’s bound to find its way into my music.”
About the SRHR Youth Ambassadorship
The Dutch Youth Ambassador position was set up in December 2014 to reflect the growing need to include meaningful youth participation in high-level meetings. The Ambassador travels along with Dutch delegations and ensures that a youth perspective is given at important conferences, the UN, the WHO etc. The Netherlands is one of only a handful of countries who have a specific appointed Ambassador for youth and SRHR. On September 8th, Lotte Dijkstra will pass the Ambassadorship to her successor Sanne Thijssen.
Cordaid’s SRHR programs
Cordaid, in a Alliance with partners and with financial support from the Dutch Ministry of foreign affairs, has led a big SRHR program in DR Congo, Rwanda and Burundi (called Next Generation), increasing the quality of sexual health services for young people and making sure they can make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health. Currently, the Jeune S3 program* – in three French speaking African countries: eastern DR Congo, Cameroon and CAR– allows us to further develop and expand our sexual reproductive health and rights program.
*Jeune S3 is an alliance of nine partners led by Cordaid. This alliance is a strategic partnership together with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The alliance members are Cordaid Netherlands, PSI Europe, Swiss TPH and YWCA, supported by five technical support agencies: I+ solutions, Healthy Entrepreneurs, Free Press Unlimited, IPPF ARO and Triggerise.