The power of peer education.
How a champion inspires adolescents in his community to access Sexual and Reproductive Health, HIV, and nutrition services.
Mbozi, Songwe, September 2021. Learning from peers can be a very effective learning method as you get to debate in a language every peer is familiar with, jokes that can ease tension are understood and it is not embarrassing discussing sensitive issues such as puberty, family planning, HIV and nutrition. Fadhili Oscar (24), has a perky melodic voice and is a champion who is a youth peer educator and facilitator of two peer education groups at Isansa ward in Mbozi Council, Songwe region. He is supporting vulnerable adolescent girls and boys in his community to increment knowledge and access to Sexual and Reproductive Health and rights (SRHR), HIV and nutrition services under the Girls Reproductive Health, Rights and Empowerment Accelerated in Tanzania (GRREAT) initiative.
Setting up peer education groups was not easy. Fadhili, who is one of many other youth peer educators under the GRREAT initiative, had to face many disappointments, as teenagers in his village were reluctant to join despite facing several challenges the groups intended to help solve. Many of the young people thought wrongly that healthy eating, sexuality education which include family planning, HIV and AIDS services are only for adults, resulting in poor health seeking behaviour among them. Fadhili was determined to change it.
He was supported by his youth officer, Community Health Workers (CHWs) and local government authorities at village and hamlet levels to facilitate formation of peer education groups. His hamlet leaders introduced him to community members during community meetings and sometimes accompanied him and CHWs to visit different families to sensitize adolescents to join peer education groups. After a lot of effort, he had mobilized 30 members for his groups and started facilitating discussions twice a week at their preferred time.
To enhance adolescent girls’ proficiency and confidence, Fadhili team up with his fellow female youth peer educators and formed an all-girls peer education group for in-depth discussions on healthy eating and sexual health issues affecting adolescent girls. This approach provided lucky chance for girls to learn from fellow girls without fear or embarrassment.
“They say, I inspire them!” says Fadhili. “I feel so excited to lead adolescent peer groups in my community. Improving knowledge, changing behaviors and lives of vulnerable children and adolescents has been my passion for a long time. I was impressed when I saw adolescents who were not part of the groups voluntarily join my sessions to learn with their peers.”
Through peer education, the GRREAT initiative provides a platform for vulnerable adolescents to get together, discuss topics related to puberty, family planning, life skills, healthy eating, gender-based violence, sexually transmitted diseases, and HIV to improve their health. Youth peer educators lead the discussions and support adolescents through weekly sessions and provide referrals to access services from the nearest health facilities whenever necessary. They are supported by the CHWs in their villages; each youth peer educator is paired with a CHW for technical support, mentorship, and linkages to health facilities. Fadhili has achieved to support the most vulnerable adolescents making their lives better.
“Within a short period of time, and with the support from CHWs, I have managed to facilitate eight referrals of vulnerable adolescent girls and boys, said Fadhili.” Three of the referrals were related to antenatal care for pregnant girls who had never had any check-ups , two were referred for severe malnutrition resulted from eating only one type of food and a 19-year old girl was referred as she had never experienced periods. The other two referrals were for boys who had delayed treatment of sexually transmitted diseases (STD)”.
“They say, I inspire them!” says Fadhili. “I feel so excited to lead adolescent peer groups in my community.
Fadhili has also noticed other positive changes among the peers which include increased confidence to discuss sensitive issues such as contraceptives among themselves and with their community members, improved communication skills and awareness of where and how to report sexual and gender-based violence.
UNICEF Tanzania with support from Global Affairs Canada is technically and financially supporting Restless Development to implement the peer education programme in Songwe and Mbeya regions in the southern highlands of Tanzania. The programme under the GRREAT initiative aims to improve SRHR, HIV and nutrition outcomes among 90,000 vulnerable adolescent boys and girls in Songwe and Mbeya regions. These vulnerable adolescents will be supported by 1,500 trained youth peer educators.