By UNFPA Sierra Leone
Freetown, Sierra Leone, 8 March 2018 – “Providing life-saving and life-transforming services to women and adolescent girls can prevent unintended pregnancies, assist them in delivering their babies safely and improve their awareness of harmful practices,” said Catherine Theo Harding, Haikal administrative assistant. “When adolescent girls are empowered with information to make their own choices, it goes a long way to brighten their future,” she adds.
Catherine benefitted from the life skills training project which operated across six districts in Sierra Leone. The project, which is supported by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, and funded by Irish Aid, aims to reduce teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone. Haikal a non-governmental organization receives technical and financial support from UNFPA to provide under-privileged children, women and girls access to quality education.
When asked what she liked most about the training which took place in November 2017, Catherine said, “I found comprehensive sexuality education quite beneficial during the training session. The use of contraceptives such as female condoms which was demonstrated to us; was something I had no idea about before.”
Catherine who works in the southern district of Bo said information on sexual and reproductive health and services is limited. She explained this lack of information has left many young people, especially adolescents girls without the necessary knowledge to make informed decisions about their bodies in terms of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. Catherine added that due to the difficulties adolescent girls face in discussing sexual and reproductive health issues affecting them, a fair number become mothers in their teenage years. “Getting the girls to speak out was a major challenge affecting our work,” she said.
“In the southern district of Bo, we have seen a significant improvement in the way adolescents are speaking out on sexual and reproductive health issues affecting them. This is a good sign for the future of our children,” said Catherine.
The 2013 Sierra Leone Demographic and Health Survey indicated that teenage pregnancy and early marriage are the leading causes of school drop-out for girls. The survey states that girls who bear children early have more dangerous, difficult and complicated births, and tend to have less healthy and less educated children than their peers who marry later.
In 2014, UNFPA working with the Government of Sierra Leone, and other development partners began the process of developing a national and standardized life skills manual for training and is the first of its kind in Sierra Leone. The life skills curriculum, geared to provide youth with vital life skills, aims to train 420 health care workers, teachers, peer educators and community health workers nationwide.
James Akpablie, UNFPA Sierra Leone reproductive health technical specialist said, “When adolescents have the confidence and trust of service providers, they will seek their advice and support to deal with issues such as family planning, sexuality and teenage pregnancy.” He added, “We will continue to support the government in strengthening the supervision and monitoring of the services provided by healthcare workers, teachers and other service providers. Further life skills trainings will be conducted across the country to empower adolescents, especially girls to help them make the right decisions so they can reach their full potential.”
According to Dauda Kamara, the monitoring and evaluation officer at the Secretariat for the Reduction of Teenage Pregnancy, in the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, life skills education contributes to child-care and protection, good citizenship, the promotion of lifelong learning, quality of life and the promotion of peaceful society. He added the life skills training aims to capacitate healthcare providers with the right skills set to provide information and services to adolescents, using the newly developed standardized life skills manuals for children and adolescents.
“Adolescent pregnancy and childbearing is believed to have severe effects on the health, education and social well-being of adolescent girls and their children,” he said.
To date, 18 district-level training sessions on life skills have been conducted in all districts reaching a total of 542 personnel.
One participant, Mohamed Mbawah, a community health officer at Marie Stopes described the training as, “Insightful – because it provided useful information to minimize the prevalent rate of teenage pregnancy and child marriages happening across the country. He added. “The Waterloo area is experiencing high rate of teenage pregnancy. And it was for this reason, why after the training we embarked on a ‘Back to School’ promotion to raise the level of awareness among adolescents about delaying sex and the use of contraceptives.”
Mohamed Mbawah, Marie Stopes community health officer
Mohamed explained that in the past, many health care workers were hesitant and reluctant to provide sexual and reproductive health information and services to adolescents. Similarly, adolescents were shy and afraid to visit established adolescent friendly centres and were fearful of being seen entering the centres. “Our back to school promotion has largely improved this situation,” he said.
Another life skills training participant, Julius Kamara, executive director for National Commission for Democratic Alliance and Human Rights, believes school clubs are important as they provide greater awareness of sexual and reproductive health among adolescents. According to Julius, the national commission has established about twenty school clubs in Freetown to train teachers and pupils on sexual and reproductive health services. “There are plans to establish more school clubs in the regions to adequately pass on the knowledge we have acquired from the training sessions. Adolescents need proper guidance, correct information and full support,” said Julius.
Foulata Kamara, a 14-year-old school club member and pupil of the Government Technical Secondary School in Freetown, said the school club holds information sessions about sexual and reproductive health, and raises awareness about their rights to education, and the importance to say no to early marriage and teenage pregnancy. “We are passing on the vital information we learn from the sessions to our friends and relatives. Such information is useful for everyone’s wellbeing,” said Foulata.