New centre aims to empower Namibian youth to thrive

New centre aims to empower Namibian youth to thrive

New centre aims to empower Namibian youth to thrive

New centre aims to empower Namibian youth to thrive

At 16, Maria Hailonga experienced a significant trauma that affected her mental health – the death of her mother. She needed help to deal with her loss but she had nowhere to turn. “The youth have no place to go to or talk about their problems,” she said.

Creating a supportive and empowering community for young people like Maria is crucial for them to thrive mentally, emotionally, physically and economically. This is especially the case since the COVID-19 pandemic, given the immense impact it has had on people’s mental and sexual health, education and employment opportunities.

Globally, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15 to 19 year-olds.

Namibia has one of the highest instances of suicide in the Africa, with an estimated rate of 9.7 in a 100,000 population, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Triggers for suicide attempts include the ending of romantic relationships and marriages, family problems, physical or verbal abuse by a spouse or partner, the death of a loved one, and financial crises.

“A lot of us want to pursue our dreams, but some people do not live with their parents or do not have their support, so it becomes difficult because we do not have the resources,” Maria said.

A new centre, the #BeFree Youth Campus, is being established to create a safe space for young people to flourish and reach their full potential. It will serve as a platform to inspire Namibian youth, help them to exhibit their talent in a safe environment, and provide access to critical services.

In anticipation of the centre’s opening, the Japanese Government and UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, together with the #BeFree Movement, recently held a tree planting ceremony on site.

“We are not only planting a simple tree, we are creating a form of protection, a form of mentorship and a place of congregation,” said Sadam Biwa, #BeFree Movement Project Manager. “We as the youth have the ideas but we need the space, infrastructure, guidance, mentorship and support from each other to create peer-to-peer relationships, so we can create these communities.”

If mental health issues are not addressed among young people, these issues can extend well into adulthood, where they can limit opportunities for leading fulfilling lives as adults.

To this end, the campus will provide prevention, mental and psychosocial support and clinical services, according to #BreakFree National Coordinator Frieda Stephanus. This will involve awareness campaigns to empower young people to make informed decisions on their sexual and reproductive health; male-centred engagements on sexual and physical development to increase male involvement in sexual and reproductive health, gender-based violence and related health issues; life skills and information-sharing for adolescents; and parental classes for teenage mothers to prevent infanticide and occurence of unsafe abortions.

“This is a safe haven for the youth, for people with different abilities and minorities. I discovered many things that I did not know I was good at until I ventured into #BeFree. They are exposing people to what they are destined to be,” said Lesley Shetukana, a first year university student.

“Look at how incredible things are when we engage young people to understand what their needs are and help them be a part of building solutions. That says a lot about the work that we are supporting in terms of putting young people at the centre stage to build a country we want,” said Esther Nantana, Leaving No One Behind Project Coordinator, UNFPA.

Mental health and psycho-social support is a component of the Leaving No One Behind Project in Namibia, which is funded by the Japanese Government. The project’s primary goals are to restore dignity, reshape the future, and address gender-based violence and negative sexual and reproductive health outcomes for women, girls, men and boys in Namibia.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of UNFPA – East and Southern Africa.