My Future is My Choice (MFMC) - Namibia's Life Skills Programme through Peer Education
To counter the growing threat of HIV to young people in Namibia, "My Future is My Choice" was designed to reach young people, through young people, with sexual health information. It is part of a co-operation program between the Government of Namibia and UNICEF.
Young people between the ages of 14 and 21 years receive a 20-hour training course providing information and life skills they need to make choices about their future. Using a highly interactive approach, the program focuses on life skills training specifically for teen pregnancy reduction, HIV/AIDS prevention, substance abuse, and rape. Each MFMC graduate prepares a peer education "action plan" to reach at least 10 friends and/or become a member of an AIDS drama, role play, or debating club. Trained young people around the country are facilitating the 20-hour life skills education and, so far, have reached over 100,000 of their peers (75 per cent in-school-youth and 25 per cent out-of-school youth).
Background/Rationale for Project: HIV is a very serious threat to young people in Namibia. Namibia has HIV prevalence rates among adults 15 to 49 years of age of just under 20 per cent. This is a very serious problem for a country of only 1.7 million people. To counter this situation, MFMC was designed to reach young people, through young people, with sexual health information as well as strengthen young peoples' communication, negotiation and decision making skills so that they are able to make safe choices related to their sexual health and associated risk behaviours.
MFMC began in 1997 as a joint project between the Government of Namibia and UNICEF, entitled the Youth Health and Development Programme (YHDP). Project partners included the Ministries of Youth and Sports, Health and Social Services, Basic Education and Culture, National Youth Council, NGO's and religious organisations, such as the Catholic Church.
- To provide young people who are not having sexual intercourse with the skills to delay sexual intercourse.
- To prevent young people from becoming infected with HIV.
- To provide young people with facts about sexual health, pregnancy, STDs, and HIV/AIDS
- To improve the decision-making skills of young people
- To improve the communication between boys and girls, between friends, between young people and their parents and their community.
- To provide young people with the information and skills required to face peer pressure around the use of non-prescription drugs and alcohol.
- To provide young people with the skills they require to make well informed choices about their sexual behaviour.
Description of Activities: Sessions are divided into different activities, including:
- Let's play: Games to teach skills in a fun way or to make people relax
- Let's do: Activities to practice what they have learned and/or small group work
- Let's talk: Questions and discussion time. Discussing and asking questions is very important for young people as this helps them to think critically.
- Closing circle: A relaxing exercise and/or closing discussion on each question
Question /Answer Session with UNICEF Project Officer Rick Olson:
How have adolescent boys and girls been involved in the project? In what stages have they been involved - situation assessment, situation analysis, planning, implementation, monitoring, and/or evaluation?
- Initially, in 1995 and 1996, research was done with 400 young people from the Omusati and Caprivi regions, which helped in the initiation of the programme.
- Young people were involved in the review and revision of the training material in 1998.
- Over 600 young people around the country are facilitating the life skills training.
- Another 60 young people are involved in the supervision and monitoring of the implementation of the life skills programme. They also undertake attitude and knowledge surveys in the areas where the activity is implemented.
- Young people are members of the regional and sub-regional committees, which manage the YHDP.
- Each region also sends young people to the annual programme review and planning meetings.
- As of 1999, young people are involved in assessment of how friendly services for young people are in their local hospital, clinic and youth centres.
How has their involvement affected the project?
Without young people acting as volunteers, the programme would not be running as well as it is. Under each of the regional and sub-regional committees, it is young people who provide the day to day management and supervision of the life skills programme. It is young people who implement the training, distribute the materials and condoms, make arrangements with the schools for the programme to operate, make arrangements with the clinic to improve access, provide follow-up to the graduates and their AIDS Awareness clubs, etc. Young people, as peer educators, have been very successful in being able to discuss sensitive sexual health issues. Young people have the interest and the energy. They only require their capacity as peer educators and project managers/implementers to be developed.
How has their involvement affected themselves?
Changing sexual practices takes some time and collecting accurate data on sexual practices is not very easy. The longitudinal study conducted in 1996 indicated sustained risk reduction behaviours. From the new data collection tools, implemented in 1999, the majority of MFMC graduates (i.e. completed 20 hours of life skills training) have indicated in their "Action Plans" that they want to be peer educators and that they want to be active in HIV prevention in their communities. For young people who go through MFMC there is a positive change in attitude towards condom use and attitudes about sexual communication among peers and in relationships. Young people who are implementing and managing MFMC have learned new skills and have improved their existing skills in communication and activity management.
What have been the achievements of this project to date?
- Over 50,000 young people have completed 20 hours of participatory peer facilitated life skills education
- Widespread distribution IEC materials to young people and to community members
- The decentralisation of the programme management to all 13 regions.
- Improved inter-sectoral collaboration and the active participation of the young people and private sector and NGOs in programme implementation.
- Improved access to adolescent friendly health services and condoms
Has a formal evaluation been performed?
A 12-month longitudinal study was conducted in two regions comparing control and MFMC intervention groups. The 1999 programme introduced two evaluation tools, which are a pre and post-test for MFMC participants and a bi-annual attitude survey which is done at each intervention site (school and/or community). A sampling of this data from the 13 regions is currently being analysed.
What were the main constraints in meeting the project objectives?
- There is the ongoing struggle of obtaining adequate financial resources.
- The decentralization and development of the capacity of partners to manage the activity is ongoing, with every region facing and addressing similar and specific constraints.
- The development of the training and support materials and the printing and distribution of the materials took much longer than anticipated.
- Sustaining the volunteers.
- Maintaining access to schools.
Lessons Learned/Recommendations/What would you do differently if you could do it over?
- MFMC has been shown to be effective in reducing risk behaviour. The involvement of young people in the implementation and monitoring of activity has been a key to the success of the programme. The programme should have involved young people in the initial design of the programme. This was done in 1998, but should have been done from the start. There should have been a system to sustain the involvement of young people who had completed MFMC in peer education and HIV awareness activities (drama, etc). This was added to the programme in 1999. There is a need to ensure that there are parallel activities in place to support improving access to services (ie. condoms) for young people. This was started in 1999.
- Another important lesson is to create an enabling environment for risk reduction behaviour change. This can be started by ensuring that parents, teachers, local leaders, opinion leaders and service providers are oriented on the activity and asked to support it in their communities.
- Teachers were identified at first to facilitate the life skills training. This was not very successful, but they are important allies and have been re-integrated into the activity in a supervisory role.
- It is important to get the right incentives for the volunteers. The activity started with a rather high, by local standards, fee being paid to trainers and facilitators. Many young people were motivated to volunteer based on the financial incentive. Better supervision has weeded out many of these volunteers. New activities and reporting requirements have also been developed as criteria for young people to receive the same amount of fee. This problem could have been avoided if the project when it started looked at the incentives being provided by other programmes.
What program support tools/resources were developed that can be used/adapted by other country offices?
A MFMC Training Guideline, The MFMC Facilitator Manuals, The MFMC Participants' Workbook, a MFMC Parents' Information Booklet, Project Management Working Notes for the YHDP Committees, and an AIDS Awareness Club Working Notes Manual.
Read a full interview with Project Officer Rick Olson about valuable lessons learned from MFMC.
For more information and sample curricula for MFMF, see "Technical and Policy Documents".
Assessing Communication around HIV Prevention, Right to Know Initiative. UNICEF-Namibia 2002.
Assessing Communication around HIV Prevention, Right to Know Initiative. UNICEF-Namibia 2002.