EU-UNICEF Partnership promotes healthy lifestyle among Afghan refugee adolescents in Iran

Adolescent Well-being Clubs in Iran are helping thousands of the most disadvantaged adolescents

A group of adolescent girls
07 April 2019

“I was not able to say ‘no’ to others and usually I used to accept whatever others asked. Before joining the Adolescent Well-being Club I had low self-confidence. But after participating in the classes here, I managed to improve my self-confidence,” says Golnar, a 17 year-old Afghan girl who, a year and a half ago, joined one of the Ministry of Health and Medical Education/UNICEF supported Adolescent Well-being Clubs operating in Karaj city, Alborz Province thanks to European Union (EU) funds.

Today, more than 2.5 million Afghan refugees reside in Iran, of whom some one million are “undocumented” (without official residency papers). A large number of Afghan families and their children live in more disadvantaged areas of the country, requiring extra measures to promote their well-being, especially those exposed to high-risk environments.

As part of UNICEF’s current country programme of cooperation with the Government of Iran (2017-2021), and through funds provided by the EU, the Ministry of Health and Medical Education is being assisted by UNICEF to expand an innovative model called Adolescent Well-being Clubs for most-at-risk adolescents, including Afghan refugees. The Clubs enhance young people’s participation and increase their knowledge and skills on how to protect themselves against physical, social and psychological risks as well as how to promote a healthy lifestyle. 

Golnar is not just a member of one of these clubs but has also successfully persuaded several of her friends to join, among whom Aylar, a 16-year-old schoolmate, remarks: “After my first visit to the club, I decided not to come, I could not connect to the others. But later Golnar encouraged me to join in and now I am here, every day.”

She also remembers her past days of frustration and excessive anger. “I used to get angry very quickly but after attending the anger management workshops here, now I can manage my anger. We have brought most of our friends here. We have found many friends,” Aylar observes.

Golnar is not the only Afghan adolescent in the club because the staff have managed to reach dozens of refugees in the city through training courses in the club or at mobile stations hosted by partner NGOs, especially those dedicated to preventing Afghan child labour.

Golnar and her friends have access to a variety of services including Life Skills training, HIV/AIDS and drug use prevention, HIV testing, and psychological counselling as well as music classes, sports and recreational activities.

But above all, they learn to live a safe and fulfilling life outside of the clubs within their local communities. “[The club staff] do not request us to limit our social activities, but they teach us how to be safe,” says Saba, 16 years old. “If it was not for what I learnt in the club, I would have used any sort of drugs found in parties,” she reflects.

Adolescent Well-being Clubs were launched in early 2016. There are currently seven operating in Tehran, Karaj, Ahvaz, Shiraz, Khorramabad, and Kermanshah. The clubs collaborate with other NGOs and take on outreach activities to provide access to at-risk adolescents in the most disadvantaged urban areas.

Hamideh Abbasi, manager of the Karaj Well-being Club, says in addition to those Afghan adolescents supported by the club: “We are in the process of signing an agreement with an NGO with access to dozens of Afghans to offer our services to them. Undocumented families, in particular, are not inclined to be registered in the clubs, so we try to visit them in their communities. We do our best to make them feel at home.”

With the EU’s generous funding, Adolescent Well-being Clubs in Iran are helping thousands of the most disadvantaged adolescents, including hundreds of young Afghan and Iraqi refugees, to have access to skills and knowledge training, and services that help reduce social and psychological harms as well as promote a healthy lifestyle.