Promoting youth leadership on nutrition through junior parliamentarians and councilors in Zimbabwe
Progress Katete is a United Nations Volunteer Nutrition Specialist at UNICEF.
Kudakawashe Zombe is the National Coordinator for the Zimbabwe Civil Society Organisations Scaling up Nutrition Alliance.
Dexter Chagwena is a Nutrition Consultant for the Ministry of Health and Child Care focusing on Nutrition Advocacy and Communication.
This project utilised the junior parliament platform in Zimbabwe to implement a youth-led nutrition advocacy initiative across six districts of the country, promoting healthy eating and active lifestyles.
The junior parliament of Zimbabwe was established in 1991 and is used to bringing the challenges that Zimbabwean children face to the attention of the government and other stakeholders. It is a recognised structure within the government and mirrors the structure of the senior parliament, with each constituency having a youth parliamentarian representative. The junior parliament consists of a junior senate and national assembly that are comprised of 80 and 210 members, respectively.
To highlight the importance of nutrition, the Zimbabwe Civil Society Organisations Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Alliance (ZCSOSUNA1), with technical and financial support from UNICEF and working closely with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education (MoPSE) and Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC), utilised the junior parliament platform to implement a youth-led nutrition advocacy initiative in Zimbabwe.
The project aimed to provide capacity-building and a platform for junior parliamentarians and councillors to identify key adolescent nutrition challenges and develop advocacy plans to address these challenges within the school environment. Furthermore, the project aimed to improve school environments more broadly through engagement with the Senior Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Primary and Secondary Education. The project was implemented from December 2020 to June 2021.
Inception and training
The project began with an inception meeting with several nutrition stakeholders to discuss the project's objectives, proposed activities and partner obligations. An inter-sectorial partnership involving the health, education and youth sectors was established. An implementation roadmap was subsequently developed, clearly outlining each stakeholder's roles and responsibilities.
Following this, a series of three eight-hour virtual training workshops on nutrition advocacy were held with a total of 55 junior parliamentarians and councillors (10-19 years of age) using the Nutrition Youth Advocacy Toolkit2 developed by Save the Children. Participating junior parliamentarians were drawn from 35 schools across six districts of the country. Selection was based on interest in nutrition and access to communication technology services, as the project was mostly implemented through virtual platforms.
Developing advocacy plans
After completing the training, nutrition advocates were tasked with developing advocacy plans. Nutrition advocacy plans included contextual activities to reach school learners to improve their knowledge and decision-making related to healthy eating and the importance of maintaining an active lifestyle. The nutrition advocates worked closely with ZSCSOSUNA and their relevant school-level stakeholders to ensure that the plans were feasible. In addition to the school-based plans, the nutrition advocates raised a motion engaging the National Senior Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Primary and Secondary Education to commit to improving school food environments.
Monitoring and supervision
The approval process enrolled members of the school's development committee to review plans, to determine if they addressed the challenges specific to the school, and if they were both realistic and achievable. A team comprised of ZSCSOSUNA, UNICEF, MoHCC, and MoPSE conducted monitoring visits. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions, only 24 out of 55 youth advocates could complete the monitoring visits. Senior nutrition youth advocates from the SUN Movement also mentored these junior parliamentarians and councillors.
Youth advocates were able to implement 60% of the activities in their nutrition advocacy plans within the first four months. They conducted group nutrition education sessions at least once a week during school assemblies, reaching approximately 15,000 adolescent learners. Successfully implemented activities were similar across schools, with the main difference being that some could not establish school gardens due to a lack of resources. Overall, four school orchards were established to enable adolescents to access a variety of fruit and vegetables. Several influential stakeholders were engaged to improve food environments, including school development committee members, school 'tuck shop' managers, vendors, school heads, teachers, and students. Nutrition education for learners was mainly conducted through 'edutainment' activities, school quiz competitions, debates, and school health club activities. A few schools initiated draft strategies and policies to improve the school food environment, including restricting the selling of unhealthy foods in and around the school, introducing a school-based canteen or a store serving healthy foods managed by the school or through tenders to selected vendors.
The motion raised by the advocates to the Senior Parliamentary Portfolio Committee led to a pledge by senior parliamentarians to invest more effort to ensure that school environments support healthy lifestyles for all children. This was broadcast at a press conference and a subsequent report featured in two newspaper articles, increasing the accountability of these parliamentarians. As the junior parliamentarian term is only for a single year, the trained advocates joined a youth nutrition network at the end of the year. Moving forwards, this group will represent youths in their constituencies on all matters related to nutrition during the consultation and design of interventions. Plans are underway to ensure that the advocates are members of the Food and Nutrition Security Committees at various levels, ensuring that energy, expertise, and youth leadership is equally distributed to encourage continuous development.
Successes, challenges and lessons learned
- The partnership between nutrition stakeholders played a critical role in the successful implementation of the project. A clear roadmap outlining the roles and responsibilities of each stakeholder ensured smooth operation and no duplication of effort within the project.
- Youth advocates were able to formulate their own plans to improve their own school food environments. This enabled a contextualised approach where advocates were empowered to be 'agents of change'.
- The project reached a large number of adolescents within schools and helped raise the youth voice within nutrition programmes. The use of peer adolescents as agents of change encouraged the participation of other adolescents.
- Using an already existing government structure, that of the junior parliament, and schools as entry points enabled the project to leverage existing personal and institutional relations and ensured stakeholder buy-in.
- Sensitisation and the involvement of key stakeholders from national to district level enabled the acceleration of project implementation.
Schools had to close as part of the COVID-19 public health measures before notable change had occurred and the activities were fully implemented. Due to restrictions, inception meetings and trainings were conducted online, with intermittent internet connectivity affecting the ability of some youth advocates to fully participate in the trainings.
- One of the biggest learnings from this project was the need to be flexible, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, platforms such as WhatsApp were successfully utilised to monitor progress when in-person meetings were not possible.
- Sufficient training and capacity-building for youth advocates on nutrition helped to build interest and enabled youth advocates to create plans to best support their constituencies and peers.
- Six months for implementation was too short to have a true impact on adolescent nutrition.
- Future projects need to tailor activities to measure the behavior change of learners in schools.
- National-level campaigns would be valuable to complement the efforts at the school-level.
Empowering young people to be champions of change at their schools, and amongst peers, is a powerful tool to improve school environments, to enable positive nutrition practices, and to influence other adolescents.
For more information, please contact Progress Katete at email@example.com
1 ZCSOSUNA is an alliance of civil-society organisations including local and International non-governmental organisations (NGOs) implementing nutrition-related programs at any level of the country. It acts as the secretariat and advocacy arm of the SUN Movement civil society network.
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Reference this page
Progress Katete, Kudakawashe Zombe and Dexter Chagwena (). Promoting youth leadership on nutrition through junior parliamentarians and councilors in Zimbabwe. FEX 66 Digest , March 2022. www.ennonline.net/fexdigest/66/promotingyouthleadershipinzimbabwe