Youth Champion Profile: Mbencho Andrew Milan
A Problem That Can Be Solved
In the North West Region of Cameroon, people with disabilities often find their sexual and reproductive health and rights overlooked. There are also few resources for young mothers, survivors of rape, and families looking to gain control of their fertility.
Mbencho Andrew Millan—Andrew—a medical doctor and public health professional wants to change that. His inspiration comes from a blind 18-year-old rape survivor and mother, who was too afraid to talk about her ordeal and ensuing pregnancy. Andrew says, “She was so shocked to find out about emergency contraceptives. She had no idea what they were. This is what motivates me.”
Andrew now serves as the executive director of ZOE-MED Organization which focuses on promoting adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health and rights, preventing HIV/AIDS among young people, and eliminating gender-based violence. This summer, ZOE-MED received a YOUAccess grant from PAI to train staff in three clinics in the Northwest region of Cameroon on counseling young people with disabilities on family planning.
The organization is currently training 100 young people with different forms of disabilities in Bamenda, Akum, and Mbengwi. The emphasis of the curriculum is educating young people with disabilities about their sexual and reproductive health and rights. At the same time, ZOE-MED is building the capacities of 60 peer educators (20 per project site) who will continue outreach and training to young people with disabilities in each community even after the initiative ends. Finally, ZOE-MED is also training 10 health workers in each of the project sites on providing family planning services to people with disabilities, with the goal of establishing partnerships with youth clinics in the three different communities.
And while solving these problems is uniquely challenging, the project is already showing signs of success. Most importantly, the communities have responded with overwhelming approval. The Ministry of Public Health, the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and the Family, and the Ministry of Social Welfare have all applauded ZOE-MED and have asked Andrew to present his team’s contributions to their officials. The governor of the North West Region recently honored ZOE-MED with an Award for Excellence for working with people with disabilities. Even pastors have asked Andrew to speak at youth camps.
The verdict is in: this is a problem that can be solved.
Still, challenges arise and questions remain. Partnerships are hard to come by. Expansion is always difficult. Says Andrew, “The million-dollar question is always ‘Where do we get more funding?’ Much of our time is spent finding new channels of funding. Our work depends on it.”
Yet, Andrew plans to answer these questions with the same principled responses he gives young people when they ask how they, too, can make a difference. Start small: Work with people. Go to hospitals. Engage the community. Be a team player.
“My passion and hope keep me going. Nothing will stop me. I am ready to put in everything to spread our message and the important information to young girls,” explains Andrew.
That persistence, and the desire to ensure that every young person in Cameroon has access to quality sexual and reproductive health information and services are at the heart of ZOE-MED’s approach. Eventually, Andrew wants to open an office in the United States, to build more international awareness and support for the very real sexual and reproductive health needs of people with disabilities.
Right now, he’ll build on his success in Cameroon. And in due time, he hopes to solve other major problems in the reproductive health community.