Friday, 7 August 2015

SHISHA: AFRICA'S UNTAMED THREAT


Jenny is jolly young girl, about 20 years of age. She is naïve but with a league of friends allover school. Most of the students in school know her for unfading smile. She seems humble even in her jumpy mood. She has been a good girl for a long time. Of late, she is under intense pressure to adopt a new lifestyle because of her new set of “cool” friends. Their hobbies are a little out of her “daddy’s girl” book, they have less interest in academic work but are all about having a good time.

Unlike her usual weekend program of spending time with family, they prefer to meet up and spend time out in bars at night blasting away their money on several drinks and smoking Shisha. She admires their lifestyle and feels it is a more fan life. Soon she starts escaping from home to join in on the fun of smoking all night long with no worries of all her father’s rules clouding over her head.

The new life seems far better than her old “boring” life. Most students esteem her clique as the famous girls who throw the lavish parties. All seems well until her grades start falling and she finds herself in constant need of tobacco so as to concentrate in class or on any assignment. What started out as a smoking experiment has now become a craving that drives her to escape from home on several days in the week to get a taste of tobacco in her body. “I feel a mess,” she confesses with teary eyes.
Young people enjoying a shisha session

Like Jenny, several youth today use shisha often because of its trending and fancy culture. Unfortunately, few of them understand the contents it is composed of.





History of Shisha
Using shisha has been a long sustained custom  among natives of  countries of the middle east like Turkey and India for over 500 years, though it has now spread all over the world. It has various flavors including apple, plum and coconut which make it irresistible not only for the teenagers but for many adults as well. It is also commonly known as goza or hookah in many parts of the world.

How it is made
Pieces of charcoal are placed on top of tobacco, usually separated by an aluminum foil. The smoke generated then bubbles through cooled water in the bowl into the hose and finally to the mouthpiece where it is inhaled and shared among a group of people.


What are the risks?
Contrary to popular beliefs, shisha is more harmful than cigarettes. It contains large amounts of nicotine, 36 times more tar and 15 times more carbon monoxide and heavy metals like lead and nickel generated from the heat sources.The World Health Organization estimates that hookah users may inhale as much smoke during one hookah session, as a cigarette smoker would inhale by consuming 100 or more cigarettes!
Smoking shisha requires longer drags, this drastically increases the amounts of carcinogens inhaled, which escalates the risk of getting lung cancer and heart disease. It also exposes users to infectious diseases like tuberculosis, oral herpes and hepatitis because a mouth piece is constantly shared among numerous people, who in some cases may be strangers who have just met in a bar or club.

What to do it about it?
Shisha consumption is becoming a major challenge because of the many myths portraying it as harmless well scented recreational drug. This propaganda is largely spread by people who sell shisha who in most cases want to increase sells. The tobacco industry manipulates the public by investing in extensive advertisement in the media through music videos and other platforms to attract the youth into a trap of linking Shisha to fancy role models (artists) and lifestyles in order to prompt constant usage. The best way forward is demystifying all the myth surrounding shisha use and sharing it with as many people as possible.

Popular Hip pop icon Drake smoking hookah




Recently the Members of Parliament in Uganda abolished the use of shisha, this shows a growing concern that shisha is posing as viable threat to the general population. In addition, the Tobacco control bill has also been passed to reduce the consumption of tobacco. With these efforts in place, provided the legislators follow through with the guidelines to regulate the use of tobacco, then we could have a dependable solution to one of the greatest threats our youthful generation is faced with.

(Image credit to www.archived.thisisafrica.me, www.globalgrind.com and www.suggestkeyword.com)

Saturday, 1 August 2015

A DAY’S EXPERIENCE OF A HACKATHON FANATIC.


It had been a long three days as several teams groomed ideas to tackle some of the most challenging aspects in accessibility to sexual reproductive health among the youth in the world. The main organisers  of the Hackathon UNFPA, selected diverse teams to encompass participants from all over the world, each with a special skills set including UN staff, health experts, software programmers and engineers and some of Reach A Hand (RAHU) peer educators.

The contestants brainstorming ideas

The groups possessed the strangest names to a lay man but each name stood for a unique bond and aspiration that all group members shared, from “Olympians for Tulumbe (O4T)” to “Hacktivate Youth” to “Put It On.” Each group had a unique idea that aimed at addressing a major youth sexual reproductive challenge through a mobile application. Every group had devised ways to market their app and attract the youth to use it. This involved having a youth friendly user interface and accurate reproductive health information in its most subtle form. Confidentiality was the key ingredient for every app because the youth would never wish to have their secrets shared with a third party.

I spoke to one of the energetic participants, a peer educator from Reach A Hand, Emmanuel Kateregga a.k.a (Stick) as his friends referred to him. I asked him for quick one about his experience at the 2015 Hackathon. With a big smile on his face, he raced through the words as he explained how great his experience had been. “ It has been an exciting and mind blowing experience for me because I have had the opportunity to share ideas with high profile people in a neutral atmosphere. I have met people I never thought I would meet in life,” he exclaimed enthusiastically “My group focused on ending sexual harassment among the youth. Our application, “Safe Pal”contains information about sexual harassment with an action plan to help any youth in case they have been harassed and it offers real time connections to authorities to prompt immediate action. I am positive our idea is brilliant and will save many lives” he concluded.

I moved on to interact with several members from other groups and boy did they have awesome ideas! In my opinion all groups were winners because I have not yet come to terms with the possibility of people creating a mobile app from scratch in just three days but apparently it was a walk over for some groups.

Mr. Ahmad addressing the contestants after the presentations
It was then time for the groups to present their great ideas to panel of judges, who included the UN Secretary General's Envoy on Youth Mr. Ahmad Alhendawi and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) technology expert and research scientist Mr. Kenneth Paik. It was tough race ahead but the teams displayed an unwavering determination. Each group had five minutes to illustrate their idea and show a demo of the application on the screens. One by one the groups presented their ideas as the judges critiqued and challenged them.

We had a short break and our attention was back to the main stage to know which teams had generated the best ideas.  Team “Hackers ASHRICA” was the second runner up and team O4T surfaced first runner up.  With a cloud of tension and high expectations the remaining teams warmed up in waiting for the winner. Finally team “Put It On” emerged as victor with their quiz app "TriGivia." The whole place was absolved in a beam of jubilation as team “Put It On” members marched to the stage to join the other winning teams and immediately set off a dance in celebration.
Team "Put It On" celebrating their victory


After a long day of seeing the potential of the youth in creating reliable strategies for change, I was convinced that the future is bright.  I cannot wait to see what happens in the next Hackathon. 


(Image credit to Mr. Kintu Kenny)