Blessings Mapemba knows the numbing destruction of drug and alcohol abuse among the youth.
The 20-year-old man based in Chilomoni Township, Blantyre, was using intoxicating substances when his parents and everyone around him thought he was a dedicated Youth of Vision member.
“I had no vision; I just wanted fun at any cost,” he says. “The youth group meetings were just an opportunity to drink, use drugs and womanise. With time, I dropped out of school because of pressure my peers,” he narrates.
Blessings’ turnaround came during peer education training by Youth Activists Initiative Organisation (Yaio), a youth-led non-governmental organisation based in Blantyre. The trainers shared vital life skills and sexual and reproductive health(SRH) information from Moyo Wanga-Kuyambira Pano handbook. The training also included pep talk on HIV and Aids prevention, decision making, substance and alcohol abuse.
“The insights brought to light that my future was doomed if I didn’t stop playing with my life. It drove me into soul-searching and I appreciated the dangers of alcoholism, drug abuse and unprotected sex,” he looks back.
Having overgrown his risky boyhood behaviour, Blessings says he did not know that being youthful is not a licence to mess up.
Youth of Vision chairperson Makhozi Kataya says the training helped curb risky lifestyles among the youth.
“Our meetings were a safe haven for members to indulge in risky activities, including substance abuse and unprotected sex, because we only focused on developing talent—singing and dancing—without paying attention to their welfare and sexuality.”
The blind spot cost futures the youth group was supposed to uplift.
“We had a lot of cases of early pregnancies and alcohol-related problems, ” says Kataya.
The breakdown in talent empowerment compelled the group to align its objectives with principles of holistic living, including SRH.
“Risky behaviour is history. Blessings is a living example of young people who are growing into responsible citizens,” he says.
His group uses the life skills handbook to produce creative activities that popularise SRH messages among their peers.
Following the life-changing training, Blessings relocated to Zomba to cut ties with the bad company he had in Blantyre.
In the old capital, he became a force of positive change among peers.
“While there, I met several young people deep in a risky lifestyle I had just escaped. With my experience and Moyo Wanga handbook, I shared the insights that changed my life and helped them focus more on education for a bright future,” Blessings said.
He also introduced music and sport activities to keep the youth busy and productive.
Says Mapemba: “I have helped 15 young people to stop substance abuse. Besides teaching them dancing and singing, I have gone back to school.”
Blantyre City Council HIV and Aids coordinator Rosemary Ngaiyaye commends the youth for complementing government’s efforts to equip young Malawians with life skills.
“The peer educators have helped us curb child marriages, early pregnancies and HIV infection, which hugely affects youth development. They are also clearing myths and misconceptions about sex among their agemates,” she says.
Blantyre urban school health, nutrition, HIV and Aids, and gender coordinator Marjory Banda says empowering the youth to abstain from practices that harm their lives is vital in combating activities that jeopardise their future.
Yaio executive director Tony Khanyepa said the group funded by Misereor of Germany is committed to nurture responsible and productive citizens in the commercial city.
“The youth need early exposure to SRH and life skills information for a better future. Lack of basic knowledge about their sexuality and harmful practices has resulted in a high prevalence of HIV and Aids and risky behaviours among the youth,” he said.