Today, there are more young people under the age of 30 than ever before, representing half the world’s population. This demographic has been strongly affected by HIV/AIDS. Uganda’s youth are estimated to represent 78% of the total population, and this is the age group that is most affected by HIV/AIDS. High-risk, sexually active women account for 36% of youth, while high-risk sexually active men account for 49%.
Related to these behavioral challenges are unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and cross-generational sex that are grossly exploitative, especially for the girl child. Young people therefore require full access to reproductive health services and information to protect themselves.
RAHU recognizes that young peoples’ concerns can only be well addressed by young people themselves bringing the spirit of volunteerism and peer to peer mentoring, hence the need for well-trained peer educators. This is why our slogan is “young people for young people.”
The Peer Education Academy (PEA) is a unique initiative that was inaugurated by RAHU and ISHU in January 2014 to train young people in life skills development, self-awareness and sexual and reproductive health and rights as key elements in their lives. This is a strategy whereby young people are trained and equipped to reach out to their peers (with whom they have much in common) with information and skills for purposes of influencing knowledge gain and attitude change so that these peers can make informed choices and decisions.
This approach uses a multiplier effect that assumes a cascade model to behaviour change. Under this approach, behaviour change starts with the peer educator. The changed peer educator then influences a positive change among a few youth in schools, mainly from the SRHR clubs. These school SRHR club members will adopt the promoted behaviour/practice. After realizing the benefits of the new behaviour or practice, they target their peers who in turn choose to change behaviour.
This project approximately targets 400 youth (20 per school for 20 schools), who will initially be part of the first multiplier group. These are expected to eventually cascade to over 20,000 youth in the 20 schools in a period of 1 year. After the first year, a group of 50 more youth from the 20 schools will be selected and trained at the PEA. The initial 50 youth trained in the first year will be given a training of trainers (ToT) course to be able to provide continuous mentoring of the Peer Educators who will have been trained in the second round.
As a means of integrating the project in the government and schools program, we are looking into reviewing the education curriculum to introduce sexual reproductive health and rights in all schools. A process is scheduled to begin early this year.
This approach is aimed at reducing the vulnerability of adolescents and youth to illnesses through the promotion of SRH information (including HIV prevention) and the adoption of skills to enable a safe transition to adulthood. The new curriculum will emphasize more school activities that will encourage information-sharing on SRHR and HIV/AIDS such as the formation of clubs, assembly discussions, disseminating messages on SRHR and HIV/AIDS, and promotion of testing and referrals. It is hoped that the PEA will be an opportunity for youth to acquire information on SRH and HIV/AIDS, and thus a continuation of government efforts to support youth in living healthy and productive lives.
The Peer Educators trained at the Academy map out health centres that provide youth-friendly services around the schools. These Health Centres are then integrated in the RAHU referral systems, where we work hand in hand with the trained school nurses and senior women teachers who facilitate ease access of youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services by the young people.
We have brought on board youth-led organisations such as Kyuka Youth Outreach, a group of youth using art, music dance and drama to empower youth in the community and help our peer educators to use community-based, interactive activities, like flash mobs to spead their messages.