22-year-old Hellen Nomugisha is the president of African Youth and Adolescent Network on Population and Development (AFIYAN), Rwandan Chapter, a network that brings together all-youth led organisations to implement focus areas like demographic dividend, entrepreneurship, gender-based violence, and forced marriages, among other things.
She is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in public health. She spoke to Women Today’s Sharon Kantengwa about her passion for sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
You are a strong advocate for sexual reproductive health and rights. Where does this passion stem from?
I have been exposed to issues that deal with sexual reproductive health and rights for young people because I have experience working with young people as a volunteer for Health and Development Initiative (HDI), which I found so interesting. I was working with high school students because I realised that they are not exposed to enough information on SRHR. I was inspired by the way they are eager to learn because as these young people grow up, they go through changes such as hygiene, romantic relationships, and puberty.
Why young people in particular?
Young people are always left out in planning, yet there is need for them to participate in policies that affect them. SRHR is my passion and it’s my interest because it’s something that has to do with public health. To serve young people, have information and mentor them into people who can have meaningful participation in planning, implementation in projects and ideas.
What has been your contribution in this field?
I have been going to schools and facilitating and mentoring them because HDI has a syllabus that they follow like gender-based violence, pregnancy, and relationships. I went to schools, taught these topics, interacted with young people and answered questions and organised school awareness events that educate and entertain the whole school.
From your experience, what challenges do young people continue to face that need to be addressed?
Young people are not informed, which is hard for them to be knowledgeable. And because of this, they are not engaged in any decision-making or implementation of projects even when those projects concern young people. I find it very challenging.
What can be done to address this issue?
There are policies already in place to address this issue, like different programmes running in various ministries. Youth corners and youth-friendly centres that are in every district where they create space for young people to ask questions and get information on different things on health development or sports, entertainment can also help. The only thing that I think we need to work on is emphasising and strengthening these policies already in place and those that are coming. They need to have more resources and services strengthening the already existing platforms.
Where do you see yourself a few years from now?
I’m just hoping to see young people grow from one level to another, and get engaged in activities around them and be of more value. Some young people are not bothered, I would love to see them do something and even if they are not grasped, they should have the courage to find out and also follow on information concerning them.
I, however, see myself largely in global health. I still enjoy working in the field of SRHR but then I really want to work somewhere in global health and see a healthy world.