Young people in Zambia face high rates of teen pregnancy and a heightened risk of HIV. The situation is more dire in Samfya District, an isolated region of island communities but talking about sex is taboo. VSO International partnered with the government and Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia to tackle sexual health taboos. VSO's Adolescent TALK (Training and Local Knowledge) project brings together volunteers and youth groups to strengthen sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
In July, VSO Zambia launched the TALK II project, which adds Talking Books to the mix. The goal is to engage, inform, and empower young people, so they can make healthy decisions for good health and well-being (Sustainable Development Goal 3).
Zambia's adolescent sexual health challenges
The Zambia government is working to strengthen adolescent sexual health education and services. However, young people continue to face challenges, including low contraceptive use, poor menstrual hygiene management, teen pregnancy, early marriage, STI/HIV infection, and gender-based violence.
Samfya District, Luapula Province, has the second-highest rate of child marriage (50%) in the country. HIV prevalence is higher (9%) than the national average (5%). The average age of sexual debut and cultural marriage is 12 years. Children as young as 10 years are engaged in transactional sex, and by 18 years, 53% of girls are married and 30% are pregnant or already mothers.
Communities in Samfya are reliant on small-scale agriculture and transient fishing. Parents are often away, working to grow food and catch fish. Adolescents are on their own for extended periods of time, which puts them at greater risk.
Young listeners listen to a Talking Book message.
Innovative technology and partnership for global good
VSO Zambia and Amplio were introduced by Arm. A leading global technology company and longtime Talking Book supporter, Arm’s sustainability approach creates innovative partnerships and technology to achieve the UN Global Goals. Our TALK II partnership targets adolescents, aged 10–19 years and will be implemented over a 12-month period.
VSO has distributed Talking Books to 100 youth groups. Led by community volunteers, the youth meet weekly to listen to messages and discuss their experiences. On a rota basis, group members can take home a Talking Book to listen to with their families.
VSO hired a consultant to produce culturally relevant messages, including songs and dramas. The TALK II messages are based on the Ministry of Health’s standard sexual health education materials and recorded in the local language. Every few months, VSO will update Talking Book content and collect usage data and user feedback. This will allow them to monitor message engagement, identify issues and trends, and hear directly from youth in their own voices.
A cost-effective approach to behavior change
VSO expects the TALK II project to reach 1,000 adolescents and 8,000 family members in five wards—Kapata, Chimana, Mano, Chishi, and Mbabala islands. With the addition of Talking Books, they anticipate the following benefits:
A wider reach: Through household listening, SRHR messaging can be heard by the whole family and not just those who attend the youth groups. Samfya families are typically between 6 and 10 people, so this will mean a significant increase in reach and, more importantly, reach the most marginalized, including women.
Message quality: Previously, community volunteers did not always deliver high-quality SRHR information. The use of Talking Books will enable VSO’s community volunteers to deliver consistent and accurate messaging.
Community feedback: Because Talking Books will allow people to engage with SRHR messages in a less intrusive way, VSO expects this to lead to more open and honest feedback about the project interventions. In addition, stakeholders can use the Talking Book’s built-in microphone to record anonymous feedback.
Data collection: Assessing behavior change campaigns can be difficult. Because Amplio’s technology collects usage statistics and user feedback, VSO will have access to data and insights they can use to evaluate message effectiveness, improve content for future deployments, and create program reports.
TALK II aims to empower youth around sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Goodbye boredom, hello health during COVID-19
Mavis Banda, a project officer who has led VSO’s SRHR programming in Samfya for over five years, said Talking Books are already making a difference.
“Our volunteers say it’s much easier to tackle sensitive issues, like menstrual hygiene. You can play a message, step away, and leave people to listen,” Banda said. “This is a user-friendly technology for low-literate people. You don’t need to know how to read; it talks to you. Even the navigation is in audio, in the local language.”
Banda said the Talking Book also offers a social outlet: “The young people say, ‘Now that Talking Books have come to our community, we won’t be bored anymore.’”
When the project was delayed by the coronavirus, VSO took the opportunity to add COVID-19 messaging to their Talking Book content. Equally important, the technology has allowed them to run the program, despite school closures.
“Amplio’s technology is very appropriate in the COVID environment,” Banda said. “At the household level, you don’t have to be there, the Talking Book plays the message. Our volunteers sanitize the device before passing it to the next household. Likewise, at the youth listening groups, participants are seated a meter apart, to adhere with the Zambia Ministry of Health guidelines.”
Access to information is a human right
During a recent partner webinar, Banda emphasized the value of Amplio’s technology for engaging youth, beyond the current pandemic. “Young people are interested in technology, whether they live in rural areas or urban areas, or come from low-literate communities. Youth are very drawn to technology and, if you want to engage them, you meet them at that level,” Banda said.
“This is an appropriate technology for these communities. Talking Books provide a safe space to get accurate information, without judgment. This is an opportunity for us to break some cultural barriers, and to have a conversation. Access to information on sexual and reproductive health is a human right.”
Established in 1958, Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) is an international development organization that works through volunteers to deliver high-impact projects. VSO’s areas of focus include education, health, secure livelihoods, participation, and governance.
As the world’s leading semiconductor IP company, Arm designs the architecture for the technology that’s in billions of silicon chips that power everything from smartphones to supercomputers to the new Talking Book prototype. Arm creates a positive impact through innovative partnerships and technologies to achieve the Global Goals.