Adapting to Reality
Taking reproductive health education out of the classroom for out-of-school youth in Bangladesh
The old fashioned education system of Bangladesh has had problems coping with the recent changes and development issues in the world of learning. The system is traditional and influenced by culture, religion, and social taboos, meaning that the issues of reproductive health and sexuality or HIV/AIDS are not discussed or taught in classroom settings. On the other hand, a high rate of primary school dropouts and young people out of school are deprived of any type of education. It is challenging to assemble these out of school adolescents since they are poor, disadvantaged, and begin work at an early stage in life. At the same time, these adolescents are vulnerable and prone to risky health behaviors including smoking, drug addiction and/or unsafe sexual exposure.
It is in this context that many NGOs deliver health messages on reproductive health and sexuality to adolescents. RADDA MCH-FP center is one of these organizations, working in the city of Dhaka in an area called Mirpur, which covers a population of almost two million people. It primarily focuses on the primary health care needs of mothers and children but also extends support to the adolescents of the area. With financial support from Plan Bangladesh the RADDA MCH-FP center organized a field program on “adolescent reproductive health” with help from community leaders. They formed 200 separate adolescent groups for boys and girls who are out of school and in school. Each group had 20-25 members and selected one peer educator who was skilled in reading and writing. RADDA trained him/her on issues related to adolescent reproductive health and pubertal changes. The training curriculum contained messages on risky health behaviors, unsafe sexual practices, and other relevant social issues on adolescent health, from early marriage to teasing. The peer educators were also trained on communication and peer to peer learning methodologies and tools. The training encompassed life skill development in relation to reproductive health, such as, negotiation skills, problem solving and emergency responses.
In addition, RADDA MCH-FP center has its own training facility and uses resources from other reputed institutes (if financially viable). After a peer educator’s training is completed they receive a pictorial manual to talk with group members. He/she joins with their team in the community once a week and follows the stated guidelines. Usually, it takes six months to complete the manual, which covers early puberty to young adulthood.
During my most recent visit to RADDA MCH-FP catchment areas, I found quite a few peer education sessions on adolescent reproductive health, both for boys and girls and those who were out of school, in the community. The groups would use community halls or school premises, upon approval. The children had a keenness to learn, and were interactive and inquisitive. It was reported that the guardians were happy to see the improvement in their children’s knowledge and behaviors. The donor funding for the project will dry up soon according to RADDA, but it needs to be continued for the sake of the nation’s future development.