He’s Teaching Youth About Reproductive Health. His Secret? Listening.

Cephas and one of his peers at the 2018 National Adolescent Reproductive Health Summit in Accra
Cephas and one of his peers at the 2018 National Adolescent Reproductive Health Summit in Accra

If there was one thing Cephas Avoka enjoyed growing up in the Garu-Tempane district in Ghana, it was asking questions.

“I was very inquisitive. I never stopped asking until I understood,” Cephas says. “I remember I used to take apart my dad’s radio set just to figure out how it works, which sometimes got me into trouble.”

Cephas, now a medical doctor earning his master’s degree in reproductive and sexual health, recalls his early love of libraries, too, where he spent many an afternoon growing up.

“I won the regional Best Library User Award three times in a row,” Cephas says. “I was a favorite of the staff and was given access to new collections after reading all the books in the children’s section.”

Cephas at a shyOUT exhibition in 2015
Cephas at a shyOUT exhibition in 2015

It wasn’t until years later when Cephas was working in HIV awareness with the Ghana Red Cross Peer Education Project that he discovered his true calling: advocating for women’s health.

“I was in my fourth year of medical school and met a 16-year-old girl who was in a coma, having suffered a complication from an unsafe abortion,” Cephas says. “It was clear that this wouldn’t have happened if she had access to the right information and services.”

Later, he carried out a survey of high school students in the region and found that “most of them got their information about contraceptives from friends and social media rather than from health workers or teachers,” Cephas explains.

“I decided then to create shyOUT, an online platform which allows users to create anonymous profiles and learn about reproductive health in a safe learning environment,” Cephas says.

Cephas and herbalists in northern Ghana
Cephas and herbalists in northern Ghana

“In many communities, there are so many cultural and religious practices that shape the behavior of and sometimes misinform community members,” Cephas explains. “It’s imperative that we provide comprehensive health education in Ghana if we are going to build healthy, productive communities.”

Cephas found, too, that working directly with the public and hearing their stories is critical in ushering in change, especially with topics as sensitive as reproductive health.

“Too often we go into communities preaching changes in behavior and attitudes without first understanding what is happening there,” Cephas says. “We need to listen to people, to get in the habit of seeing the problem from their perspective. Then we need to tailor our interventions to meet their needs.”

For Cephas, an inspiring leader embodies just that curiosity: “He listens to his people and values integrity over self-interest,” he says.

Today Cephas is continuing to educate young leaders throughout the country about reproductive health and about their role as women’s health advocates.

“I hope my work will change lives, increase knowledge, and reduce barriers to access,” Cephas says. “I want to empower people to contribute not only to their own development but also to the development of their communities.”

Interested in Cephas’ work? Learn how you can be a women’s health advocate on our Africa4Her page.

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