Peer Health Education in Malawi

I saw this video of Kumbukani, a Malawian girl who got pregnant after she dropped out of school and later decided to go back to school and be a peer educator. I’m always inspired by efforts to help girls in developing countries become leaders.

This program was established under the auspices of the United Nations Foundation, through the efforts of a joint partnership with UNESCO, UNFPA, UNICEF, and WHO.

I have a soft spot for Malawi, which is a country in East Africa, having been a Peace Corps Volunteer there in the late 80′s. Apparently, in Malawi, nearly half of all girls are married before they are 18 years old. They face a myriad of mind-boggling issues: contracting HIV/AIDS and STDs, childbearing complications and even death, lack of educational and employment opportunities, and on and on.

We hear these facts a lot, I think, and I wonder if there is some sort of glaze-over effect when people read about the problems girls and women experience in developing countries. There are some great organizations working to solve these problems, like Girl Up, a UN Foundation program working to mobilize girls to become global leaders in the effort to help adolescent girls in developing countries. But is it enough? Do we need a massive world-wide social change movement to make these problems disappear?

Next week, the Skoll Foundation is having its annual Skoll World Forum, which brings together 800-900 NGOs, investors, journalists, governmental organizations, foundations, and corporations to discuss the world’s problems and what is being done by these groups to solve them.

I have to say I also have a soft spot for peer education because I used to run a peer health education program for college students at the University of Washington. I have seen how powerful it is when peers talk to each other about ‘sensitive’ and ‘embarrassing’ topics like sexuality.

Instead of ‘fear-based’ messaging, which I have found is not especially effective among this population, the program emphasizes personal responsibility, social support and other strength-based approaches to help people understand the impact their decisions  can have on their lives and others.

And last, but not least, it is a tremendous opportunity for girls and women to take leadership roles in education their peers about important health issues.

What do you think about the work that is being done to help women and girls all around the world? Is it working? Why or why not?

This entry was posted in Inspiring Organizations, Inspiring People and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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