Sékou Traoré, 26, became one of FCI Mali’s youth peer educators, or un educateur-leadeur, two years ago. He works as a mechanic at a garage in Bamako, making him one of many Malian youths who work in the economy’s informal sector. Youth in the informal sector have been, and remain, difficult to reach with health awareness and advocacy messages, because they take jobs rather than attend school where these youth health messages are concentrated.
While Sékou maintains his job, he works for FCI as a peer educator as often as time allows, sometimes once a week for a few hours, and sometimes two or three times a week. Sékou dedicates most of his free time to FCI.
What made you decide to get involved with FCI two years ago?
At first, I became a peer educator with FCI to get information that I otherwise would not have had access to. People didn’t openly discuss sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or their prevention, for instance, or preventing unwanted pregnancy.
Neither I nor my friends had access to really helpful, accurate information on those topics. I also wanted the younger people, especially those in the informal sector and out of school, to have the chance that I didn’t have to learn about STIs and preventing them.
What is the most significant effect of your work with FCI on the community? Do you feel that what you’re doing with FCI is making a difference?
We have been able to change the structure of how disease spreads, especially among youth that we work with.
FCI’s peer education program stepped out of schools and into the informal sector, allowing us to reach many people who otherwise would never have the knowledge or awareness that they do after we work with them.
Without FCI’s work, the youth of the informal sector wouldn’t have the courage to get tested for STIs. They wouldn’t have the knowledge to ask for access to contraception, or the courage to ask their partners to use contraceptive methods or condoms. They wouldn’t know what to ask for if they went to the pharmacy, so they wouldn’t have gone at all. They wouldn’t have the courage to ask their parents about healthy sexual relationships. The increased dialogue and open communication throughout the community helps to prevent the spread of disease, and is the most significant effect of our work.
What exactly does your work as a peer educator entail?
I run trainings or discussions to try to raise awareness on different themes. The themes are all centered on reproductive and sexual health issues, ranging from contraception to partner violence. I am a facilitator for these types of discussions, or sometimes the group of facilitators will host discussions or stage skits to raise awareness on a particular theme. I belong to three different groups of peer educators, each of which has about 10-15 members.
Why do you feel that raising awareness about sexual and reproductive health issues is particularly important in Mali?
It is very important that everybody in Mali has access to all the knowledge that they need in order to be responsible and care for themselves.
Malian culture is particularly closed to these kinds of really important discussions and information- and it is precisely that attitude that allows poor behavior and practices to spread. FCI’s work is particularly important in this type of setting. For example, in the past FCI has given us condoms to pass out to the youth in the informal sector where we work. This was crucial, because otherwise to get condoms, youth we work with must risk a degree of social shame if they try to buy them from the pharmacy or the corner store in their own neighborhood where their families live.
Almost all of the information and knowledge that they have about sexual and reproductive health is information that we have given them during our trainings, discussions, or our theater programs.
I hope to keep on working as a youth peer educator in the informal sector because it is important work and I enjoy being with FCI.
FCI is changing the culture here in Mali for the better. It is truly changing the behavior of the youth that I am working with in regards to their health and bodies. I feel grateful that I have joined FCI and can contribute to its efforts in Mali.