During her adolescence, Bi Umanzi Vuai (now in her 50s) recalls that she did not understand the changes happening to her body. As was the case among most of her peers, Bi Umanzi’s parents did not tell her much. She was raised knowing that parents do not talk to children about sexual matters. Parents believed that if you told children about these things it was the same as encouraging them to have sex.

“My mother used to tell me I would get pregnant if I were to ‘meet’ with men,” says the soft-spoken mother of two adult daughters. “This created a lot of fear in me when I was young to the extent that for some time I did not even respond when men greeted me! (Laughs) My mother should have told me that one can get pregnant by having sex, NOT simply by meeting with men!”

In Bi Umanzi’s community inZanzibar, most adolescents—her grandchildren’s peers—still receive little information from their parents about sex. This lack of information  can lead young people to take risks that may bring about lifelong harm. Bi Umanzi wanted to help bring about change; she is a Madrassa teacher, and in April 2011, she was trained as a facilitator for “Daraja” (meaning bridge in Swahili), a curriculum-based life skills initiative to promote sexual and reproductive health in youth by bridging the communication gap between parents and children.

Bi Umanzi is one of 10 adult and 10 youth volunteers trained by an NGO called UMATI Unguja. UMATI Unguja is implementing Daraja in five wards inZanzibar. Adult–youth pairs of participants attend 20 sessions spread over three days. The first day is for adults, the second day for youth, and the third day brings adults and youth together. Four hundred and fifty adult–youth pairs have participated since April (56% of participants were female). Daraja is an initiative of the American Red Cross, Tanzania Red Cross Society and FHI 360 under the UJANA project supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Since she started to facilitate Daraja sessions, Bi Umanzi has become a strong advocate of parent–child communication in her community. She hopes to see a society where children are not left to face the challenges of growing up alone as happened to her and her daughters. The seed sowed by her effort and that of colleagues has started taking root in an environment that has many strong taboos. “We are getting a lot of interest from religious leaders and local leaders who want us to extend Daraja to their areas,” says Said Salim Maalim, the UMATI Unguja coordinator.

Bi Umanzi sees the effect of Daraja in her community. “Talking openly about things like pregnancy, homosexuality and drugs has improved a lot. A large number of youth as well as parents in this community are getting to accept that open parent–child dialogue lays a firm foundation for youth to lead a healthy life,” she concludes.

Read the full success story here.

To learn more about the role of parents in youth sexual and reproductive health visit our “parents” topic page.