Editor’s note: The following first-person entry is part of a recurring series detailing the experiences of Grassroot Soccer (GRS) Youth Reproductive Health Assistants (YRHAs). A different YRHA will be highlighted in each post.

The YRHA model is a flexible and creative solution to address heightened barriers adolescents in Zimbabwe face when accessing Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) services and information due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Through on-the-job mentorship, GRS is strengthening institutional capacity to create safe spaces to provide youth friendly services and openly discuss social norms and taboos around gender, sexuality, and SRHR.

Thubelihle Nkala, Grassroot Soccer (GRS) Zimbabwe Youth Reproductive Health Assistant

I grew up [with] limited information on SRHR, especially how [I] could protect myself from early and unintended pregnancies. I always thought that a girl would not become pregnant just by having sex once a month. This ignorance led me into having an unplanned pregnancy, which caused me to drop out of school. This was the story of my life; I always shared with young people from my community hoping that they would not make the mistake that I had done.

I had the opportunity to train as a GRS Coach and later as a Youth Reproductive Health Assistant and I was able to share with a wider network of young people, parents, community leaders and other institutions. I am now able to bridge the gap of knowledge on SRH and prevention of early unintended pregnancies. I enjoy the discussions we have with my peers and I often share my story while encouraging them to access contraceptives and [wear condoms]. Lack of information has always driven us young people to make the ill-informed decision and I am glad that I am only a stone’s throw away from many young people and I can easily provide them with information and facilitate access to short-term contraceptives while escorting them for long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARC) at the nearest health facility. *

I am now a game-changer in my community [and] the youths are now able to access family planning methods without being judged.

*Editor’s note: Short-term contraceptive methods include birth control pills, condoms, contraceptive injections, a contraceptive patch, a contraceptive ring. a diaphragm, a cervical cap, a sponge, and spermicides. Long-acting reversible contraceptives include the intrauterine device (IUD) and the birth control implant.