Dominic was 22 when he became a volunteer peer educator with Restless Development Sierra Leone. In 2008 he was sent to work on a remote island called Bonthe to educate the community about HIV, gender equality, teenage pregnancy, and STIs. While on the island, Dominic organized a march for International Women’s Day to raise awareness for women’s rights (watch video here!). He felt that he “never wanted to leave the island,” but also that he had left something behind; “young women that were able to continue our work”. Dominic continued to work with Restless Development as a Field Officer from 2011-2012 and has since moved on to work with the International Rescue Committee and Save the Children.
Dominic says;“I think that without Restless I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing now.”
What was the biggest challenge in Sierra Leone when you began volunteering?
“The biggest issues was changing the perspective of the older people about the younger people. We had just come out of war and when you look at the war itself, the majority of people who participated in the war were young people. The old thinking was that young people are there to make trouble, young people are not developmentally orientated, started from there. Restless’ mission at the time was to put young people at the forefront of change and development.
The issue of HIV came in strongly: If you look at those who were affected by HIV, a large portion of that number were young people, so you know what peer-influence does? In part it was getting young people to educate other young people of the dangers, rather than perpetuating rumors that HIV was just being used as a tool by white people to scare us away from engaging in sexual activity and having unwanted children.”
How did you engage youth?
“Our engagement took different forms. When I volunteered, we had what we called ‘in-school’ activities, and those engaged younger children. We also had our outdoor activities; we had community coordinators, plus for example the tribal chief and heads of schools, and through drama and Q&A sessions. What I did was the move the process from the school to health center. The majority of the community used the health center. We did talks and starting using videos. Also we had International Women’s Day.”
“One thing that people never wanted to talk about in my community was sex, so this was challenging. By mentioning sex in a classroom, all the students would shout, so I wanted to see how I could change the dynamics of the school and the community, so that they could start to talk about sex and sexuality in the community.”
Why do you think that youth-led engagement is more successful?
“If an elderly person in the community is distributing condoms, a young man will looking at our culture, taboos and other traditional beliefs will not go to that old person to request for condoms. But if I am distributing condoms in my community, as a young person, I will have to give it a code name, like even if I am sitting with a tribal chief, when someone comes to me asking for condoms, they will use the code name. So for example, we used to call it like “peanuts”. So young people would come to me and they would say “I want peanuts”, but by that they are coming to request for condoms.”
What was your hope for future young generations in Sierra Leone?
“The challenge on the ground now working with young people in the community is the way young people interface.That was just a springboard to build your skill, then you’re looking to the wider world to get your own job. That dependency on Restless Development is high. People have got the skill but how to use that skill is a very real challenge.”
“Restless taught me how to present issues, for examples FGM: there are ways you can present it to people so that they are communicated and I learned all of that from Restless. I’ve been using that quite well and I have been getting the result that I want.”
Dominic now works as the Team Lead for Passion For Humanity in Sierra Leone and continues to develop his own projects aimed at benefiting youth-led development.