It is always an awesome feeling traveling to rural Liberia and our journey to Cestos City, River Cess County via Buchanan, Grand Bassa County was extraordinary. Driving from Buchanan to Cestos City, River Cess County and meandering through the potholes, stones, mud, cracks and crevices on the road foreshadowed the delicate nature of our coming intervention. On the contrary, we passed a plethora of billboards along the way that seemed to imply successful missions by the various international organizations that erected them.
It did not take too long upon arrival in the city that our disappointment, first about the level of development and second about the mediocre sexual and reproductive health programmes began to show.
The billboards were just there for show as there were no intense efforts put in place to address the issues of sexual and reproductive health, violence against women and girls. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) did not resonate among young people as most of them got to know of these goals for the first time.
A packed room of young girls ages 9-18 listened to dialogue around reproductive and sexual health and rights. It didn’t take too long to realize that most of the young girls were knowledgeable about the issues around sex but had limited knowledge with regards to reproductive and sexual health and even rights. From the dialogue, it was obvious most of the young girls engage in daily sexual activity and are unaware of their sexual rights.
When one of the peace messengers mentioned the issue of statutory rape to the girls, they claimed it was not rape but consensual contact. Some of the young girls have dropped out of school for one reason or the other.
Like many other rights, sexual and reproductive health is not absolute. Many times, young people are not aware and even when equipped with the right information; they feel un-empowered to do anything. When asked about the use of condoms to protect themselves, the young women in River Cess mentioned that the men don’t like to use it.
Leaving RiverCess and returning to Buchanan and Monrovia left us emotionally drained but strategically inspired. We left knowing that there is strength needing others; that this is not a sign of weakness. A social revolution in achieving sustainable development in sectors and counties like River Cess would be needed.
Messengers of Peace (MOP)-Liberia, following the establishment of its third Mentorship and Coaching programme for young adolescent females in Cestos City, would require building stronger features, programmes and structures in the form of a Community Knowledge Center. Our young women in the areas need more than mere sign boards and quick visits from programme officers and managers. They need meaningful involvement and active participation in reproductive and sexual health programmes.
Looking ahead, our government as well as the international community needs to do more in the sectors if we are to accomplish the SDGs and agenda 2030. It is no longer sufficient to concentrate programmes in Monrovia. Our young girls deserve more than rusty, abandoned billboards.
And until next week, when we come to you with our winning article for the month of February 2017, it is peace above all else, peace first, may peace prevail in our time.