Sexual health and the environment are also among issues being tackled by youth volunteers in deprived areas of the conflict-torn country.
I am country coordinator of an international platform of young volunteers. I live in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but I travel a great deal to the eastern part of the country - specifically Goma and Beni as these are two of the most deprived areas in the DRC.
We are volunteers working mainly in the following areas: health (sexual health and reproduction of adolescents and young people), education, environment and the promotion of gender equality and opportunities, peace and democracy.
We contribute towards solving the barriers young people encounter in the DRC in the following areas:
- Sexual and Reproductive Health. The problems of accessibility to good information and quality family planning services; the problems of STI/HIV-AIDS infections in teens and young people, unsafe abortions, undesired and early pregnancies, amongst others issues.
- Education. Girls' access to quality education; schooling of vulnerable girls; literacy and more.
- Environment. Climate change and destruction of nature.
- Gender, Peace and Democracy. Gender parity, gender equality and opportunity and female leadership.
Young people aged 10 to 24 are our main target group as they are the most vulnerable and the most impacted.
At the beginning of the year we identified the major problems faced by young people in each area that we work in and we then developed activities that can provide solutions to these problems.
One of the projects we worked on was funded by the International Federation for Family Planning. We targeted girls who lived on the streets, victims of sexual violence and harmful sexual experiences.
Our project helped the girls become contraceptive distribution agents in the community and now they are champions in family planning.
In our work plan this year, we identified several issues including problems in the area of sexual and reproductive health, in the field of education, environmental, gender, peace and democracy issues.
In the field of health, we have been able to identify the following problems:
- Lack of access to family planning services
- Lack of financial means to ensure the care of young people living with HIV
- Low involvement of government members in advocacy activities
In the field of education:
- Little involvement of the Congolese government in assisting young people living in conflict zones to have access to a quality education
- Lack of structure for orphans which makes it very difficult for them to access a quality education
- Low school attendance of young survivors of sexual violence
Some examples of activities undertaken in these areas (sexual health and reproduction, education, the environment, the promotion of gender equality, and peace and democracy) are:
- Awareness-raising activities on STI/HIV/AIDS prevention among young people and the fight against the stigmatisation of young survivors of sexual violence in conflict zones and wars in the DRC.
- Education. The training of girls who are unemployed as community educators and their reintegration into active working life; the implementation of social and educational activities during the holidays in rural areas in Kinshasa and throughout the country; teaching vulnerable young people skills to enable them to fit into working life.
- Gender. We organise workshops and conferences to promote women's leadership in the community, as well as gender recycling campaigns and advocacy activities.
We are coordinating and conducting several projects in the DRC. Most of the projects are related to health and include:
- Prevention of child marriages in the DRC, a project funded by Champions Global Reproductive Rights (PAI) which is to obtain from the Congolese government a commitment on ending early marriage.
- Improving access to family planning services through the creation of "youth corners" in the community. This is funded by Pathfinder International.
In my community, repeated armed conflicts have had a very negative impact on access to education.
The conflict in the DRC had a major and negative impact on access to education in my community, on my personal life and that of my friends and family to the extent that it has created a climate of insecurity among the population. It destroyed lives and school facilities.
In my community, repeated armed conflicts (wars and massacres), tribal and other conflicts have had a very negative impact on access to education.
They prevent young people from gaining access to schools which is why we find that there is a very high illiteracy rate for young people.
Conflict has also impacted my friends' lives as their primary caregivers have been killed, meaning they are unable to continue to go to school.
Cultural discrimination against girls means that more boys are in school as girls are denied and discouraged from attending school as it is assumed they are made for weddings, not school.
The conflict in the DRC has had an impact on learning potential and opportunities for children as it has created a climate of social and geographical instability which has ensured most parents who were employed or self-employed were forced to migrate to new, safer areas.
Sadly the various conflicts have also contributed to the destruction of schools.