That Orange Shirt
Marcia Massique likes to be the last to enter a room. Her outfit is pressed, her hair and makeup perfect, her entrance perfectly timed for maximum dramatic effect. Though she is just 17, she has the poise of someone twice her age. Her eyes twinkle, and she tends to burst out in spontaneous song. But you can tell she means business. That’s because Marcia’s duty is to address the most pressing issues facing girls her age in Mozambique: gender-based violence, early marriage, teenage pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections.
Marcia is an activist, one of the roughly 250 young young men and women supported by Pathfinder International throughout the country as a first line of defense for students who may not have access to crucial information on their sexual and reproductive health at home.
“An activist is a friend, someone who’s open, a person who understands everyone,” she says.
Marcia takes her job seriously. She says her role equips her with the information she needs to make informed sexual choices, and enables her to pay it forward. “When we know something, we can share it with others. It’s a weapon to fight against many troubles.”
At Escola Secondaria Acordos de Lusaka in the coastal city of Maxixe, the activists run the show. Eight in total, their bright orange shirts set them apart against a backdrop of black and white school uniforms.
Around once a week, the activists facilitate activities at their school: small-group discussions on topics ranging from differences between contraceptive methods to how to protect against sexually transmitted infections. Group role play, involving both boys and girls, tackles issues of violence and drug use. Activists may demonstrate how to properly use condoms and explain the importance of getting tested for HIV and other STIs. They are taught to refer girls that need additional support to the local clinic, where they can access essential health services from a health provider, including contraception and safe abortion.
“Teaching someone something for the first time, it’s good,” says Marcia. “You are sharing your knowledge, your experience, and that’s important.”
One of the students in Marcia’s peer group, 16-year-old Isaura, learned how to use a female condom with Marcia’s help. While at first the girls were skeptical, eventually they came around. “A friend from school was bullied for being pregnant, and left school,” says Isaura. “We don’t want that to happen to us.”
When Marcia returns home at the end of the day, she is dutiful and helpful. The youngest of five children, she is the only one left at home—the focal point of her parents’ attention.
Her father, Mario, a local merchant, shares Marcia’s penchant for doing good. In the past, he has worked for the Red Cross and to help raise funds for families in need. He sees his daughter’s work as essential to the future of his country.
“When Marcia started this work as an activist, at first she didn’t tell me,” says Mario. While some fathers may have been upset, Mario was says he was nothing but proud.: “I understood it was very good work—to first help herself, and then others.”
“I would like to leave the following message to other fathers,” he adds. “They should let their daughters go to school, be educated, so they can educate others.”
It appears, the advice is working. Marcia is in control of her life and her future: “I know when, how and who to start a family with. And I know when I should have children. I know how many children I should have. I’m able to take all these decisions. I can decide everything in my life.”