Leading Through Disaster: After Malawi Floods, Youth Advocates Step In to Prevent Human Rights Abuses

October 13, 2016

By Faith Zumazuma

Photo above: Youth Advisory Council launch at the International Consultation of Child Helplines in 2014

In January 2015, Malawi was hit by deadly floods that claimed more than 1,000 lives. As one of the counselors in the Tithandizane (meaning “let’s support each other”) National Child Helpline in Malawi, I supported abused children who walked into the center or called its toll free line.

During this emergency, our team of counselors was deployed to provide psychosocial support to survivors in the camps. Leading a team of 42 staff, I supervised follow up for child abuse cases.
One morning, I decided to have a chat with a group of girls affected by the flood. Providing this safe space allowed the young women to speak honestly and openly about their time in the camps. Thandie, a girl with no relatives in the camp, explained that one of the camp coordinators told her that she had to have sex with him in exchange for relief items. Together with police and social welfare officers, I investigated the issue and the camp coordinator was suspended and sent out of the camp.

After that, Thandie and the other girls in the camp were living freely. Our leaders oversaw the establishment of 14 youth clubs that integrated youth into various committees. The committees distributed relief items, made sure children were not abused, disseminated sexual reproductive health information and services among girls and boys, and abolished child marriages that were taking place for survival.

In addition to leading the emergency response in the disaster-affected district, I also stepped into a leadership role at the National Child Helpline. I follow up on complex cases of child trafficking, child marriages and defilement. Recently, I led a team that rescued 18 young people from being trafficked to Mozambique plantations. My department made sure that they were taken to a safe place while the police prosecuted the perpetrators.

Seeing these challenges first-hand has further motivated me to make a positive difference in the lives of youth around the globe. While interacting with young people on a daily basis, I have realized that I must provide a voice to the voiceless – especially girls who are more marginalized in many spheres as compared to their male counterparts.

Faith Zumazuma speaking at the LEAP project meeting in Nairobi on the importance of online child protection

Faith Zumazuma speaking at the LEAP project meeting in Nairobi on the importance of online child protection

I often ask myself the questions: What if all girls were empowered like me? What world could we have?

In 2014, I joined Child Helpline International’s Youth Advisory Council (YAC). The YAC was established to give girls and boys around the globe an opportunity to have a voice on issues that affect their rights and welfare and offer advice to the Child Helpline International Board. YAC also ensures that we are able to offer input on the challenges youth face. As the adage goes, “nothing for us without us.”

Being a member of YAC has enhanced my assertiveness and boldness so that I can seize various opportunities to speak out on behalf of all girls and women. In November 2016, Child Helpline International is holding an international consultation conference, and I believe it is essential for youth to have a voice in the conference. Youth from all parts of the world must be involved because they know the challenges we face, articulate the issues and showcase the great work that is already youth-led. You can help make this happen by supporting me and other YAC members to travel to Bangkok to attend the bi-annual International Consultation of Child Helplines.

You can support us by donating at the following link: https://www.gofundme.com/youth-voice
Learn more about the International Consultation: http://www.childhelplineinternational.org/international-consultation-2016/
Learn more about Child Helpline International: http://www.childhelplineinternational.org/

faith_zumazuma_headshotFaith Zumazuma is a 27-year-old counselor for the Tithandizane National Child Helpline in Malawi. She also serves as an advisor on the Child Helpline International’s Youth Advisory Council on youth-related issues. In the future, she wants to work with teen mothers who have been rejected by parents or guardians and their communities and help them and their children enter school to become independent.