Zimuzo

Stephen Chukwumah; On The Importance of Sexual and Reproductive Rights Awareness Among Nigerian Youth

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Stephen Chukwumah

Charity really does begin at home for international youth activist Stephen Chukwumah. After gaining exposure working for international bodies, he decided to start an NGO in South-East Nigeria.

Stephen, 24, grew up in Lagos. He  always had a knack for reading, asking questions and finding out things. A graduate of English and Literature from the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma Edo State, Stephen’s inborn curiosity has led him to high offices within and outside Nigeria.

Stephen’s history as a youth advocate can be traced to his third year in high school where he was trained as a peer educator by the National Youth Aids Programme; a scheme funded by the Lagos State government. Subsequently, he was part of another training organised by the Nigerian Union of Teachers, Lagos state chapter. As a young person having to speak to people his own age about HIV/AIDS, the message was very basic – “HIV/AIDS is real. Don’t stigmatise against people living with it.”

When Stephen was 18, a friend of his came from the UK to set up an NGO and invited Stephen to join the board. Since then, he has gone on to amass a wealth of experience not many can boast of.

With this exposure from the NGO, he became involved in international work even though he lived in Nigeria at the time.  As a member of the Youth Coalition in Canada, he went on to serve as an international youth advisor to the United Nations Fund Population Agency (UNFPA) and also as an international advisor for Rutgers Nisso through their Youth Incentives Program in the Netherlands.

Stephen has a diploma from an international training program on sexual health and human rights in Sweden and South Africa; organized by RFSU/RFSL and sponsored by the Swedish government. He works as a steering committee member for the HIV Young Leaders Fund and is currently a youth activist for Advocates for Youth in Washington D.C., USA.

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Stephen addressing the advocates for youth urban retreat opening plenary in Washington D.C. USA

While Stephen jetted round the world contributing to far reaching policy decisions, it struck him that these opportunities which he was canvassing for were not available to the youth back home. Stephen felt that young people in the East should have more access to sexual health facilities.

In 2007, he set up the Improved Youth Health Initiative, an NGO registered in Nigeria and funded by the MTV Staying Alive Foundation. The initiative is aimed at providing comprehensive sexuality education to the most at risk population (sex workers, people living with AIDS and the LGBTQ community).

In the beginning, the organisation limited its activities to Anambra state but has now expanded to all the five states in the South East as well as Edo state; where they currently run a program with the Society for Family Health, Population Council and the Centre For the Rights to Health.

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Stephen speaking at a UNAIDS briefing at Capitol Hill in Washington D.C

Stephen believes that for any HIV/AIDS programme to succeed, it must be based on comprehensive sexuality education. He insists that young people will listen to anything that is youth friendly; structured in a way that the young people can connect with. To achieve their mission of providing sexual and reproductive health education for the most at risk population, Stephen and his team use social activities in free and safe spaces. The relaxed atmosphere, free food, drinks and music set the mood for a few hours of educational talks. There are also opportunities for free confidential counselling offered either through the phone or emails.

Improved Youth Health Initiative isn’t just focused on HIV/AIDS. They also educate the youth on other sexually transmitted diseases, reproductive health issues, personal hygiene as well as provide information and services.

One of the most absurd things Stephen has heard in the course of organising health talks was  about a young women who believed that the way to terminate an unplanned pregnancy was by drinking hot Fanta. His job is to gently but firmly correct such ideas.

We asked Stephen the trick to getting these maligned minorities to open up on sexuality and sex-related issues and he replied, “The rule is don’t judge. Always have an open mind dialogue, leaving aside culture and religion. When people feel that you can relate to their stories, they are encouraged to talk.”

We asked Stephen what he felt people were most shocked by when they found out about his work in sexual and reproductive health and he confirmed that Nigeria was a difficult place to work in such an area. “In fact, the biggest taboo when you talk about sex in Nigeria is sex itself. And then, when you talk about sexuality, people think of you as being a perv”, he said.

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However, Stephen isn’t bothered by attitudes of people who coat irrationality and ignorance in ultra-conservatism. Stephen’s motivation comes from within. He told us, “I am driven by the need to create a change; to change something about somewhere, the need to fill a gap. My purpose is to contribute something meaningful on planet earth.”

Stephen prefers to measure his success by the impact his initiative is making. Improved Youth Health Initiative currently holds trainings every four months. Although smaller gatherings are held to commemorate days like World Aids Day, and International Human Rights Day. 

He sees a future Nigeria where people are more open-minded and where everyone matters. A Nigeria that is free of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Improved Youth Health Initiative is currently opening a community centre in Enugu. The community centre will be open on a daily basis for walk in consultations. However, counselling will only take place on specified days due to funding and personnel constraints.

Improved Youth Health Initiative welcomes volunteers who are willing to be a part of their project. For more information, contact them youths2gethernetwork@gmail.com and you can follow Stephen on twitter @pencilpies

18 comments

  1. john

    A very comprehensive package and well put together interview…. Its informative as it totally enumerates the activities of IYHI in Nigeria … This is another feather to your cap Stephen… Kudos

  2. Aloysius Iyke

    The best method to fight against HIV/AIDS among the youths is to bring in someone who is young and knows the best way to relate to the youths. Stephen Chukwumah fits into every dip to fight against this pandemic in Nigeria. He is rare gem and an embodiment of intellectual wealth, one who’s at the apex of what he does.

  3. Harrison

    You are the definition of a true Nigerian. You are an epitome of motivation to every sane youth of this generation. I was inspired when I first melt you in company of Pastor John, looking at you, strikes a cord in me, if every youth can be purpose driven like you, this world would be a better place and not to be used as an instrument of destruction. You have alway said this and I quote Am not bothered by attitudes of people who coat irrationality and ignorance in ultra-conservatism. My motivation comes from within.“I am driven by the need to create a change; to change something about somewhere, the need to fill a gap. My purpose is to contribute something meaningful on planet earth.” Boss, you are in the right track and I hope to meet you at the top.

  4. shedrach sanni

    I’m not surprise about all dis, this z sum1 I met not up to a year and I know what he has done and the challenges he gave me. I believe the sky is noot the limit for you.

  5. Kimi Farrington

    I am so proud of you.You deserve the praise.I am trying to stay just as active as you are.Keep up the good work you are sure to make a difference.

  6. christian

    keep up the good work sir, may the almighty God strengten you the more… Thanks for making us proud and changing the lives of million all over the world especially in our society, God bless you.

  7. Michael

    If many of the young people in Nigeria will bend down and listen i strongly believe that young people can change the world. What is it that moves you? Stphen has proven that once u have a drive move on and you will achieve your goals, spend more time reading, making research and spend quality time with people who will inspire you and motivate you in becoming better person. Steve you have more work now to inspire and mentor your peers where ever you are and always count on my prayers and support. To our Nigeria youths IYHI will always be there for you so always come in for informations and services on HIV etc.

  8. Emokpaire Jelili

    Way to go man, nicely compilled, i love the initiative. Your so on course to greater hieght, keep up @ this pace and u’ll acheive even better.

  9. Chi Meche

    Stephen, my baby bro as i call you fondly… You are excellent not just scholastically but also in your craft. You also have a divine gift of speech, approach and a profound way to deliver your message to the hearing of all manner of people. What you have done here not only shows you leadership which is eminent in your other works but shows you are a true son of the soil. I applaud your desire and need to reach out an affect people in places where they would rather keep silent. Its laudable and i pray more people begin to shine their light and most of all their expertise in works such as this… Power to you bro!!

  10. christopher chukwumah

    Wow! Its good to know what my cousin is doing is trying to educate the people of africa (nigeria) and people all ove the world. The issue of aids most especially in nigeria or africa leaves a thought of hopeless to the people affected.

    Some see people living with HIV / AIDS as already dead like back in the roman days of the condemed gladiators. It would be a really good thing if people in nigeria can give support and funding to such courses and also learn to support people leaving with HIV / AIDS, the aim ? To make a better Nigeria and a world with out discrimination.

    Am proud of you cousin keep the good work on and God bless all of you for your hard work.

  11. Samuel Tanko

    Stephen I haven’t personally met but I have always heard a lot about him and also followed his work closely…I swear, this is one of the many Nigerians that inspire me a lot. I am really proud of you young man…imagine at this age what you have achieved and what you would d in the nearest future. Keep it up and trust people like us to be behind you…also hope to meet you one day. CHEERS

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