Hopeful Because The Family Life and HIV Education (FLHE) Curriculum is About To Be Updated
‘For every youth led advocacy, there is need for adult partnership because real change and quick advocacy win happens when we all work together as allies and friends’.
Life seem pretty easier when you look into the horizon and change beckons. I wake up every day, with the desire to make little contributions to the future because, somehow I believe that efforts towards the well-being of everyone – especially, for adolescents and young people are tiny seeds to the future I, (we) want. Ever since my high school days, I had always stood in the gap for young people regarding their rights.
But this is not without challenges, sometimes one experiences doubt if certain efforts adds up or not. I am proud to lead the implementation of a project that seeks to increase community support and public consciousness on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of adolescents and youth while engaging the decision makers to review and implement the Family Life and HIV Education curriculum (FLHE) using social interactions of people. Although, this is not without some butterflies in the stomach.
In Africa, issues around sex is something that no one wants to be known taking a strong lead on and especially when it is focused on adolescents and young people. But, for those who do, they will require some guidance as they cannot appropriately talk to adolescents both in-school and out-of-school about sex without a handy document on comprehensive sexuality education. The FLHE curriculum is the leading guidance on provision of sexuality education in Nigeria since 2003. This document guides teaching and/or instruction in sex education in junior secondary schools. This document has failed for only talking about HIV (education) – definitions, modes of transmission, and signs and symptoms. While the curriculum presents comprehensive information on this, it falls short of informing adolescents and youth on how to prevent infections through safe sexual behavior, condom and contraceptive use.
Current trends on issues of adolescents rape in Nigeria gives credence to the need for more comprehensive sex-ed. Educating adolescents and youth on HIV/AIDS (prevention, care and treatment) including prevention of unintended pregnancy is important as failure to do so may lead to an unfulfilled destiny of many young people. With training and workshop conducted as part of implementing the #TearDownBarriers project, I have heard real life stories speaking to the need for holistic sex education. “One wouldn’t know that adolescents engage in sexual activity” said one advocate after listening to the stories of fellow advocates. I call this, the beauty of diverse perspectives to issues.
Either with consensual or force sex (rape, drug led) with scientifically accurate information on HIV and prevention of unintended pregnancy, it becomes easier managing trauma and effects of such violations. As an organization, we are excited to work on this project – to increase awareness on adolescents and youth sexual and reproductive health, and advocate for review and implementation of the FLHE curriculum in the state. Through youth led advocacy and partnership with other organizations and individuals, the FLHE curriculum in Rivers state is set to be updated and tested in select secondary schools. This comes with exhilarating breath, feeling of big win for young people.
But then, there are challenges, discouragements and fears of appointments not being honored and desperation for volunteers commitments to delivering on the project. However, through mentoring for youth advocates and adult partnership, the challenges were overcame.
It is said that change starts young in the words of a certain young leader, but it comes faster with technology. In implementing this project, I discovered that technology is about the fastest way to open critical discussions on issues around sex, HIV/AIDS and contraception, especially among adolescents and youth. With technology, we were able to spark conversation on tabooed issues such as sex and contraceptive use and also engage directly with decision makers on adolescents and youth sexual and reproductive healthcare needs.
Until now, Rivers State has not had targeted programs/interventions on adolescents and youth sexual and reproductive health and rights. This narrative of unmet need is changing. And we are helping to make it happen. For the first time, adolescents and youth sexual and reproductive health needs finds its way in the state work plan for family planning led by The Challenge Initiative (TCI). Also, in observance of the world contraception day, we hosted an advocacy event that allowed for open conversation on sex and contraceptive use by adolescents – sourced from high school students and young people as discussants in the room with senior persons- tearing down barriers and creating the new normal.
Strategic learning for us which we are taking forward to the next phase of the project is to involve more boys than we already did. Gender is something that adds flavor to a solution. According to our youth advocates, boys struggle as much as girls figuring out their left and rights on their sexual and reproductive health. And it takes one boy to get to many girls.
On personal development, I will recommend relationship building as a must have skill set for an advocate. Though I cannot totally say that I got that right now, but certainly, I appreciate this important skill and I am hoping to cap mine with some elements of perfection by the end of this project.
I remain most grateful to our donors, Women Deliver and HP. Our passionate advocates, untiring volunteers and most supportive board members, staff of the ministries of health and education and partners (CHAI, TCI, RSPHMB, FHI360, Teens Can Code) in the state for believing in the health and well being of adolescents and young people in Rivers state.
Together, we will advance young people’s health, rights and well-being in the Niger Delta region.
Program Advisor, KTI