NGO Spotlight on AHI: ‘Access to Sexuality Education is Fundamental for Adolescent Development’

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Sexuality health of young people matters, so has research and study proved overtime. This is because while growing up, they are dished with conflicting and inaccurate information by their peers; hence some of them make bad decisions that end up in unwanted pregnancy or even contacting HIV/AIDs.

Worthy of note is that not many organisation is stepping up to address this issues and at the home front, a huge gap has been left because in the core African tradition, discussing sexuality issues with young people, especially at a very young age is a ‘taboo’ and it is feared that once exposed to this knowledge, they will be promiscuous.

However, in Nigeria, Lagos-based Action Health Incorporated (AHI), a non-profit, non-governmental organisation is filling this gap. AHI is dedicated to promoting opportunities for young people’s health and development, to ensure their successful transition to healthy and productive adulthood.

Oluwabusayo Sotunde had an interesting chat with AHI’s Programme Officer, Onyinye Edeh, about what the organisation is doing in the development sector and how why sexuality education is important for young people. Ms Edeh also shared her thoughts on sexual reproductive health issues in Nigeria and how the government and the society can step up the end to sexual reproductive health in Nigeria.

Below is an excerpt from the conversation.

AHI Family Life and HIV Education (FLHE) Sensitisation Outreach to public junior secondary schools in Lagos Photo credit: Onyinye Edeh

How far has (AHI) help in promoting reproductive health in the society, especially among young people?

Since its inception in 1989, AHI has worked with community and opinion leaders, policy makers, and government officials to design and implement innovative and participatory projects in education, service provision and advocacy for young people.

AHI worked with the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Education to design the National Family Life and HIV Education (FLHE) Curriculum which was approved by the 49th session of the National Council on Education in 2002; the FLHE curriculum is the education sector’s key response to preventing and mitigating the impact of HIV/AIDS among in-school youths in Nigeria.

AHI publishes a quarterly newsletter called Growing Up as a resource on sexuality and life planning issues for teenagers. AHI trains secondary school students to be peer educators on sexual and reproductive health information. We also conduct trainings with teachers and medical school students on how to talk to young people about sexual and reproductive health and how to provide services that are youth-friendly.

AHI’s work also includes implementation of projects to expand sexual and reproductive health service provision to married adolescent girls in four north-eastern Nigerian states of Borno, Bauchi, Yobe and Adamawa.

What project is your organisation currently working on?

AHI is currently working on an advocacy project to advance evidence and mobilise action to scale-up programmes for out-of-school adolescent girls living in the more than 40 slum communities in Lagos state. This project includes a high-level dialogue meeting which will take place in September 2015 and involve key leaders and community members around Lagos state. We are also working with the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria to integrate youth-friendly health service component into the Nursing curriculum. As well, we are building the capacity of lecturers to effectively deliver the Family Life and Emerging Health Issues (GSE124) course in colleges of education across Nigeria.

We are wrapping up the FLHE Handbook Distribution Project which involved the distribution of free copies of the FLHE Students’ Handbook to every student and FLHE teacher in 10 pilot schools across the six educational districts in Lagos during the 2014-2015 school year. Copies of the Handbook were also distributed to the libraries of each of the 348 public junior secondary schools in Lagos and the CD version was distributed to all FLHE teachers in these schools. In all, about 10,000 copies of the print and 2,000 copies of the CD version were distributed in public schools.

What approach does your organisation use in carrying out its development programmes, especially among youths?

AHI’s model focuses on engaging community members and government leaders and institutions from the conception of a program idea to ensure the sustainability of our programs. We utilise the following approaches to carry out our work:

  • Advocacy and Community Mobilisation
  • Sexuality Education and Counseling
  • Resource Material Development
  • Clinical and Referral Services
  • Job/Vocational Skills Training

Students win a trophy at AHI’s annual Teenage Festival of Life (2014 edition) Photo Credit: AHI

The Nigerian government recently passed the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Bill into law, a plus to the fight of reproductive health in Nigeria. How will this help the work of your organisation?

The passage of the VAPP Act is a great accomplishment for the Nigerian people and for girls and women in particular. The Bill calls attention to the reality of the harmful practices and violent abuses that girls and women suffer such as female genital mutilation and sexual and domestic violence. Most importantly, it provides a legal framework for prosecuting perpetrators of these crimes and providing rehabilitation services for victims. The VAPP Act helps our work by sending a strong message that violence against persons is wrong and cannot be tolerated. Sexual violence affects reproductive health. The Act assures us that there is a system in place to seek justice for our young people and it ensures that young people’s rights to health are protected.

 

What advise will you give on the implementation of this law, even into the corners of every home?

Every law ever created is just mere words until it is put into practice. My advise on the implementation of the VAPP law is that there should be an accountability mechanism to track and document the number of reports made and action taken on each report. At the home/societal level, we need to re-think and change the social norms that enable violence. Girls and women are not tools or punching bags; they are human beings with rights to their bodily integrity and a right to good health.

You work with young pupils. What is your take on government actively introducing sex (sexuality) education into school curriculum?

In our present day and age – a time in which we see fragmentation within family and social structures and very poor youth health outcomes – it is critical for the government to take an active role in ensuring the welfare of its youth. Access to sexuality education is fundamental for adolescent development. Because many of our parents were not educated on sexual and reproductive health by their parents, they find it difficult to discuss sexuality issues with their children. However, our children are developing into adulthood in a world saturated with right and wrong information about sexuality. Young people need factual and age-appropriate information to take care of themselves and safeguard their health. Through the integration of sexuality education into the school curriculum, the government is doing its part to promote young people’s healthy development. Young people are no longer the future of our world, they are our present and future. Therefore, we should equip them with the right tools now, starting with education!

A student contributing during a Peer Education workshop for Junior Secondary School students. Photo Credit: AHI

What is the role of parents in sexual reproductive health to their children?

Parents (and guardians) have a key role to play in the foundational development of their children. Parents should be the first people to teach their child about understanding his/her body, the human developmental process, and how to take care of the body. If parents (and guardians) fail to provide adequate and factual information to their child, the child will be misinformed by his/her peers, society and/or media, and this will lead to unhealthy practices and negative developmental outcomes.

How can the media help in the issues of reproductive health?

The media plays an important role in educating the public and in shaping behaviors. The media should make a conscious effort to put out age-appropriate, positive, and factual information about reproductive health. Young people are easily influenced by what they see and hear. We need better role models on our TV screens who portray healthy choices and lifestyles.

If you were to change something, especially in areas of reproductive health in Nigeria which is the main thrust of your organisation’s work. What will that be?

I would change the adult attitude and comfort level towards talking about sexual and reproductive health. Many adults think that once you educate young people on reproductive health, you are giving them permission to be promiscuous. This is not true. Young people are curious beings, and as long as a parent has instilled strong morals and values in the child, the child will make healthy decisions because he/she will know the consequences of a particular decision. Adults need to be supportive of providing age-appropriate sexual and reproductive health information and services to young people.

How can people, individual or organisation support your work?

The beauty of what we do at AHI is that everyone can support our work. Individuals can be agents of change in their communities by advocating for the rights of young people. Parents can ensure that they re-enforce positive values and create a space for their child to speak with them about sexual and reproductive health issues. Organizations can conduct advocacy events and provide services that promote adolescent health. Government officials can establish and ensure the implementation of policies that protect the rights of every child and adolescent. Corporate organisations can sponsor a project. Young people can be peer educators and promote the health of their peers by sharing factual information.AHI also accepts financial donations from members of the public and private sectors to advance our work.

Lagos State students receive free copies of the FLHE Students’ Handbook. Photo Credit: AHI

What’s your advise to young people especially in areas of knowing more about their reproductive rights?

My advise is this: Your body is yours, not anyone else’s. You have the right and the responsibility to take good care of it. Know how your body works. Know your reproductive rights, and take control of your body. Protect your bodily integrity.

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