This blog post was contributed by Peris Wakesho, one of the fifteen Young Champions of Maternal Health chosen by Ashoka and the Maternal Health Task Force at EngenderHealth. She will be blogging about her experience every month, and you can learn more about her, the other Young Champions, and the program here.
It is Tuesday, 1st February 2011, a very hot sunny day, Schools had just resumed the previous day after a long Christmas, New Year and voter registration break in Nigeria. I was just from buying a bottle of drinking water to quench my thirst. Did I mention I rarely drink water? But this weather leaves me feeling very dehydrated and so i think am learning a very good habit…….drinking a litre of water a day! Maybe my skin will be flawless by the time I am through with the program!
These three boys, seemingly in their early teens, one dressed in full school uniforms and the other two in home clothes but carrying school bags – an indication they are all from school and heading home – walk in at the Youth Resource Centre, looking shyly and smiling at each other. ‘Good afternoon,’ they greet and walk towards one of my colleagues at INCRESE to talk to her. My colleague walks them out, comes back and calls me to the inner office. I willingly follow her to the office and she whispers ‘these boys want condoms, and we do not have, what do I tell them, what can we do? How do we assist them?’ I tell her to just give them options of where they can get the condoms, but let them know that if they need more information on the proper use of condoms or have any questions then we can help.
Thinking its sorted, she comes back and we go to the inner room again?!? …yes, you guessed right. Minna is in the North of Nigeria, a conservative Islamist state. The general expectation and belief is that these teenage boys are abstaining from sex. So how do they begin to go to the general hospital, pharmacy or local supermarket to ask for condoms? One thing is clear, they know they need the condoms and are determined to get them, but do not know how to proceed from there.
Looking at these teenage faces, I admire their courage and know it might be a lifeline, not just for prevention of Sexually Transmitted Infections, HIV Included, but a contraceptive for Family Planning. Yes, you heard me right, it is Family Planning for these teenage boys because they are not yet prepared for parenthood. After some discussions, my colleague introduces me to the boys, talking to them about the options for getting the condoms, their proper and consistent use, but one need remained un met: condoms. This might not be the best option, but through some quick thinking we figured out that we could help them buy the condoms this one time and maybe the centre can think of a way of subsidizing that cost in future.
I ask the boys if they have money so that I could go buy them the condoms. Some of my colleagues opt out on going to purchase the condoms from the nearby supermarket because they know them. I figured out this is a session for another day. Back to the boys, they say they have no money. This is not recommended. I ask them to wait so I could go buy condoms for them.
At the supermarket, the attendant smiles when I ask for condoms. When he realizes I am not shy and actually ask him questions about other brands he hands me the condoms I want. I check the expiry date and ask him to give me a receipt. The answer he gives me puts so many puzzle pieces together, he says “He will see the prize, you do not need the receipt, you will just use them” a prejudgement of why I am buying the condoms. I decide to play along a bit and tell him, “I just need the receipt so he should give me and that it has to be official.” With a wide smile on his face he writes the receipt and when I ask him to ensure he puts clear details and the organization’s name. He seems a bit shocked. I know that is my cue to act and hope that he learns not to judge people or their motives for buying condoms next time. So I tell him “Yes, anything for organizational use has to be accounted for and you know that”. I hope this will leave him thinking and the more he does the better, as he will be questioning his own attitude!
As I crossed the road back to the office, I saw the boys’ curious looks. Maybe they thought I wouldn’t come back as I took a very long time at the supermarket. Their eyes flashed to the parcel in my hand, seemingly to confirm that I had actually bought them or that others nearby won’t know what it is when I finally hand it to them. I reach to them and hand over the parcel. Before leaving they thank me and I seize the moment to let them know that if they have any questions, need more information, or just want to talk they should feel free to come ask for me.
As the boys left, I remembered a phone call this morning from my little nephew (he should be in his early 20s), telling me that he and his family are fine. Yes! he is already a father and a husband! Maybe I did not do much for him and the girl, I thought to myself, but before I digressed further a smile stole its way from the corner of my mouth. Yes I know the ideal is that these young people abstain, but from the discussion it shows they are already having sex. Helping them protect themselves is the next best option. I felt very happy and relaxed. The boys I helped were definitely students, looking between 13 to 15 years, so chances are very high that their partners are also students in their school or the girls in their neighbourhood. This means that at least if they use the condom properly, some girls won’t get pregnant, the boys are taking fatherhood seriously, and an STI is being prevented.