Kigali — A UNFPA-supported nursing programme scholarship that Danny Chikonde received when he was just 22 years old has helped change not only his life, but also that of his siblings. At the time he was working as an untrained teacher in his home district. Today, he is a manager.
Now the Health Project Manager for Discover Health, implemented by John Snow, Inc., Mr. Chikonde, 40, remembers the role UNFPA played in kick-starting his career.
He was born in Mukushi, a rural district in Zambia's Central Province, and was the sixth of ten children in his family. Yet his parents divorced when he was five years old, leaving his mother to fend for herself and her children.
"The scholarship covered my tuition and upkeep. I was also able to care for my siblings as my mother had passed away," Mr. Chikonde says.
On graduating, he found work as the manager of a rural health centre in Mujimazovu in Solwezi. With his earnings he was able to pay for his younger siblings' education and living expenses, as well as that of an older brother, all of whom were living with him.
"When my mother passed away, my first-born sister was heading our family. But she didn't have much as she was working as a secretary at the Road Department in the capital, Lusaka. I had to step in," he says.
Choosing to delay having children
Today, Mr. Chikonde is married with an 18-month old daughter. He delayed marriage and children because he wanted to ensure that his siblings were old enough to fend for themselves first, he says. He also credits the UNFPA youth programmes that he was exposed to while in college for his decision.
Mr. Chikonde has a Bachelor's Degree in Project Management and plans to pursue a Master's Degree in Public Health. He proudly represented his organization at the biggest AIDS conference, the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA), in Kigali, Rwanda, from 2-7 December.
Asked what his message is for young people, he says: "It's important to be determined and focused. Never lose hope - opportunities are there. You just need to find them."
He emphasizes the importance of belonging to a network of like-minded people and to recognize which one will give you a platform to excel.
Engaging young people
At ICASA, the African Youth and Adolescents Network on Population and Development (AfriYAN) and Safeguard Young People (SYP) programme urged young people to take charge of their lives and prioritize their sexual and reproductive health and rights.
In discussion with UNFPA Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Mabingue Ngom, AfriYAN representative Millicent Sethaile acknowledged UNFPA's work in enhancing the lives of adolescents and young people. "Young people are meaningfully involved at ICASA and its thanks to UNFPA," she said.
- Lindiwe Siyaya