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Photos by © Eric Gyamfi
“Growing up, I was an anti-ambassador for contraceptives and family planning, in charge of despising and mocking people who used them.”
Maxwell, 26, from Tamale in Ghana, didn’t want anything to do with people who used contraceptives. Yet in a country where 51% of adolescents have an unmet need for contraception and 14.2% of teenage girls will become pregnant, fortunately it became something Maxwell could no longer avoid. This is the story of how a young man turned 180 degrees when it came to sexual and reproductive health and rights and now helps to shift the harmful viewpoints of other young people that he once held so firmly.
“Now I understand how important contraceptives are.”
Maxwell grew up in a small village in Ghana’s Upper-East Region. The attitude and perception of most people there towards sexuality education, contraceptives and family planning was very hostile.
“Even my younger self was negative about these issues. I grew up perceiving young people who were open about their sexuality as promiscuous and disgusting. Particularly those who used contraceptives.”
In complete contrast, Maxwell is now an avid promoter of sexual and reproductive health. Here, he works with students at the Tamale Senior High School on a group exercise on the subject.
I realised how important sexuality education and family planning is, especially for young people.
In May 2018 everything changed for Maxwell, when he applied for the job that now regularly brings him to schools to interact with students and teach sexuality education.
“I’d just finished university and had no job nor relevant experience, so I was interested in volunteering opportunities. My big brother introduced me to the organisation, Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana (PPAG), who were looking for young people to be trained in Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE). Before I started, I had no idea what it exactly entailed. After an intensive five-day introduction to CSE, everything got turned around.”
“The training completely overhauled my perception about sexuality education, contraception and family planning. The scientifically proven information shared during the training helped clear the misconceptions in my head.”
Hearing what others had experienced, opened his eyes. Below is the office of PPAG where Maxwell is now a peer educator.
“The personal experiences the girls at the training shared about instances of sexual abuse and harassment in their previous schools also opened my eyes to the reality of what young boys and girls go through. I remembered when I was 14 years old and my big sister sent me to buy sanitary pads. I came back with toilet roll for her, because the shop keeper and I both did not know what a pad was, or what it was used for.”
“It struck me that a lot of young people are going through abuse. They may not even have anyone to talk to. I was so excited to start providing sexuality education to help provide SRHR information to young people and also serve as a confidant.”
“I have advocated family planning to both young people and adults, because I now understand how important it is. As part of the outreach team, I also work to provide SRHR information and services, including family planning methods and STI treatment.”
Maxwell and his mentor, Mathild, drawing up plans for an upcoming project.
At Dehin Sheli Junior High School, students are given a presentation on STIs. Maxwell, Aliu and Mariam heading walking towards a class at the Dahin Sheli Junior High School for their presentation
“An out-of-school young girl approached me one day and said, ‘There is an issue bothering me that I cannot discuss with anybody, but I feel I can talk to you.’ Hearing this and knowing that she trusted me gave me so much fulfilment and I became more interested. I encouraged her to feel comfortable and assured her that she could talk to me about anything. Then she said, ‘I have not seen my menses for the past two months and it’s really bothering me.’ I gave her some brief counselling and convinced her to see the nurses at the PPAG Tamale facility for further assistance and she did.”
The one-time hater of all things related to sexuality, Maxwell is now an empowered and committed advocate for young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. He takes the lead over other young people to fight his worthy cause. At Dahin Sheli Junior High School, students are given a presentation on STIs.
Below we see Maxwell and his colleague at Radio Justice in Tamale, speaking on the need for all teenagers to recieve sexuality education.
I feel so satisfied and proud of myself, looking back at the hundreds of young people who now have the right SRHR information and education to make informed decisions about their sexuality.
Maxwell’s story is part of Get Up Speak Out, a five-year programme working to improve the (knowledge of) rights and sexual health of young people in seven countries. The programme is led by Rutgers and implemented in collaboration with: Aidsfonds; CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality; Dance4Life; IPPF; and, Simavi, as well as with six alliance partners in-country. The SRHR Alliance in Ghana is the country partner driving the implementation of this project.
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