Young people all over the world are doing incredible things to change their communities and the lives of the people who live there for the better.
Today on International Youth Day – a special day dedicated to celebrating the role that young people play in tackling some of the world’s biggest challenges - Comic Relief is proud to be sharing the work of three young people who are fighting malaria in Sierra Leone, where the disease is the leading cause of death.
Baba, aged 23, Isatu, aged 22, and Salamatu, aged 21, have been chosen to join a project run by Restless Development, which is supported by the Comic Relief and GSK partnership.
The project is training 50 young people to develop new youth-friendly approaches to raise awareness of malaria and to improve access to health care services, especially amongst unmarried mothers and pregnant teenagers and who are often stigmatized, isolated and, together with their babies, are most at risk of malaria. The aim is to empower young people to become young leaders, and give them the confidence to use this information to influence decision makers. So while they’re fighting malaria, they are also learning new skills and gaining valuable work experience, which is vital as youth unemployment is also a major challenge in Sierra Leone.
Here Baba, Isatu and Salamatu share some of their experiences so far…
“I am very confident that the research will have a huge impact on increasing the knowledge, behaviour and attitude of my community, especially young people.”
Baba says it is “a dream come true” to be chosen as a young researcher, because he has always had a passion for working with other young people and the issues that affect their aspirations, livelihood, and health.
He says: “My engagement in the malaria research project created a sense of acceptability, especially in relation to some misconceptions about malaria being related to Ebola, which resulted in some people finding it hard to accept our research work. However, our constant sensitisation and intervention brought the curtains down on that.
“I am very confident that the research will have huge impact on increasing the knowledge, behaviour and attitude of my community and the outcome of the project will lay a very strong foundation that will provide the much-needed solution to the deadliest threat to the wellbeing of my community and the immediate villages.”
“What really gave me more confidence to aspire to join the project was the fact young breast-feeding mothers as well as pregnant women were encouraged to apply.”
Isatu is a young mother of a three-month-old baby. She says that as a young person, she has a key role to play in contributing to the health of her community and believes that the project will create a huge impact in the health-seeking behaviour of young people.
The training built her confidence and enabled her to engage local authorities and other young people on malaria. “I have so far learnt new skills such as team work, data collection skills, leadership and self-confidence,” she adds.
She says her community has been very receptive to the research she has carried out, looking at the knowledge, attitude and behaviour of young people seeking treatment for malaria.
‘’At least, in my community and the immediate towns and villages, everyone is aware about the havoc that malaria continues to wreck on our children and young people.’’
“This research will create awareness on malaria in the minds of young people in the community.”
Salamatu has always been passionate about supporting other young people, and hopes the skills she has developed as a community young researcher will help her realise her dream of becoming a nurse.
She says: “The training was very useful and successful as I came in to contact with several experts who imparted detailed knowledge about the causes of malaria.
“The community is very appreciative of our efforts on the project so far; and stakeholder involvement in the project is making it easy for our work.
“This research will create awareness on malaria in the minds of young people in the community. And will scale up health centre attendance for malaria treatment.”