Effective communication often times requires more than just a medium or vessel through which to send the message. It requires effort to use unconventional means beyond the radio and television and move to the streets, house to house, stadiums and open spaces to openly interact and speak with the targeted person and attract them to be able to capture the message in a captivating and engaging way.
The question, “How will you pass on the information so that it can be understood and interpreted in your desired way?” then comes up.
The case for community based organizations (CBOs).
CBOs play distinctive roles that draw from their strengths as community centered establishments.
The goal is to be able to pass on information to the public through use of the already existing structures at the grassroots that are already familiar with the dynamics of the communities that they work in.
The end result is that such CBOs not only empower the people, but in turn, empower themselves through capacity building and trainings that they undergo before they disseminate information to their communities.
This is one way through which Reach A Hand, Uganda (RAHU) , a young led organization based in an urban setting, is using, as a way of the realization of its activities as regards to sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) in all communities of the 4 districts we work in.
Though the RAHU SRHR Youth Fund, the CBOs act as ambassadors in their communities and RAHU continues to strengthen leadership for youth grassroots structures to respond to emerging SRHR issues of young people.
Four CBOs are currently benefiting from this project. Child Awake Initiative Africa (CHAIN Africa) in Jinja, Muduuma Youth Network (MUYONET) in Mpigi, KYUKA youth outreach in Wakiso and Real Agency for Community Development (RACD) in Mbarara.
It is the activities that they carry out and how they carry them out that makes it possible to reach the rural young people. Activities like open dances, Focus Group Discussion (FGD), HIV testing and counseling, menstrual hygiene and sanitation days as well as drama sessions that they carry out in their communities, attract bigger audiences and they get an opportunity to discuss SRHR related issues.
The essence of these activities is that people get the confidence to talk about sexual reproductive health and rights topics (SRHR) that they fear to talk about in public. It is the empowerment that they get from these activities that drives them to take informed decisions and get comfortable enough to break the silence and speak on the SRHR issues that affect their individual communities.
Kyuka Youth Outreach is a church youth led group that believes in communicating SRHR messages by use of visual arts. Through the nurturing of talent in creative arts, dance and drama, Kyuka Youth Outreach is enabling young people in Wakiso to be innovative and self-reliant by working with local churches (something which is quite unusual- SRHR in churches for example condom use or safe sex). By passing out information this way, it is inspiring moral and behavioral change, strengthening young talent to hone self-sustaining skills as well as providing guidance and counselling to the young people to uphold their faith based values while making knowledgeable life choices when it comes to sexual and reproductive health.
Closely related but different to Kyuka Youth Outreach is Muduuma Youth Network (MUYONET) which captivates its audience through use of videos and sports. Here, young people get information in their communities through videos and games like football with an aim of accessing information easily and in an entertaining way.
Besides the videos, MUYONET engages local leaders to discuss SRHR issues with the audience consequently capturing them so as to effectively pass on the message. MUYONET also does community project awareness and mobilization surveys, peer educators’ identification and sensitization on SRHR issues and outreach, training of youth leaders on SRHR issues, production and showcasing of short video recordings to young people as well as training of parents to pass on SRHR information to their youth.
Over 10 peer educators have been trained so far and 2 school outreaches have been conducted by MUYONET across Mpigi
Real Agency for Community Development (RACD) through the formation of SRHR centered youth groups, training of peer educators, encouraging dialogue and conducting Community Health Campaigns, is investing in youth empowerment to enable young people in Mbarara to acquire information to aid them in the life choices they make.
To date, six youth groups have been formed to be champions of SRHR in their local communities, over 25 peer educators have been trained, more than 120 young people have carried out HIV Counselling and Testing, 53 women screened for cancer of the cervix and two dialogues have been held across Mbarara.
Child Awake Initiative Africa (CHAIN) which operates in Jinja, holds dialogue sessions with stakeholders in the district and 8 youth corner sessions. It conducts peer to peer learning sessions, HCT (HIV counseling and testing) campaigns and outreaches as well as Youth empowerment programs (youth dialogues, Dora tales, youth camps and youth friendly corners).
CHAIN has an entertaining activity where they organize schools Music, Dance and Drama (MDD) competitions. These competitions register over 20 schools to participate based on a list of SRHR themes. After the competition, CHAIN carries out campaigns in the schools as a follow up to extensively teach SRHR to students.
CHAIN has been able to reach 834 young people directly; 2219 indirectly with information on SRHR and life planning skills. It has also been able to reach 1199 people (667 male and 532 female) through HIV Testing and Counselling, and thus enabling them to know their HIV status.
Working with these CBOs so far, has shown us their importance in connecting with young people in rural communities. Their presence in such places, makes them a vintage point in communicating and disseminating sexual reproductive health messages as they have home made solutions to the local challenges that we attempt to solve with global lenses.