2021 Update of Project in Zambia
Technology to Enhance Access to Education & Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Zambia
Canadian parter: Stephen Lewis Foundation
Field partner: Young, Happy, Healthy & Safe (YHHS)
The project was started in January 2020; completion is now expected in June 2021.
The major challenge YHHS faced was the outbreak of COVID-19 in Zambia. The new pandemic made project implementation difficult, especially for project participants in non-examination classes. They were not able to attend school until September because of a partial lock-down (only the examination classes – grades 7, 9, and 12 – were permitted to return to school in June 2020).
COVID-19 was also challenging for students in examination classes. For example, some students were not able to attend classes as they did not have face masks and physical distancing in schools proved to be a challenge because schools do not have enough desks.
Despite these challenges and because of their close ties to the communities in which they work, YHHS was able to continue key aspects of this project while observing COVID guidelines as outlined by the Ministry of Health. For example, due to school closures, YHHS pivoted its programming to increase awareness on gender equality, sexual health and reproductive rights (SRHR) and HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in community settings rather than in schools.
Sanitary pads were provided to girls in examination classes (grades 7 and 9, whose in-person classes were the only ones not cancelled due to the lockdown), as well as to girls who remained at home. For the girls at home, YHHS ensured that this project activity promoted communication between female guardians and girls on menstrual health. The importance of this project activity cannot be understated; through this activity, YHHS has learned that menstrual hygiene is a struggle for many girls in the communities it serves due to low awareness levels and a lack of access to sanitary products.
The following activities were completed in 2020
12 peer educators, trained in SRHR and HIV prevention, worked closely within the community to ensure that girls remained in school. The trained peer educators conducted dialogue sessions in communities where rates of gender-based violence increased as a result of the lockdown. In addition, information sessions focused on the prevention of intimate partner violence where youth – especially girls – could safely access SRHR services during the COVID partial lockdown. The sessions reached 1,322 girls, 234 mothers, 179 fathers and 487 boys.
8,300 reusable sanitary pads were produced and distributed to 2,075 girls, both in and out of school. Girls were taught how to make the pads and encouraged to make them for personal use, as well as for income generation. School fees have been paid and uniforms and shoes were distributed to 150 girls. Other items were also distributed to program participants.
YHHS reports that providing uniforms alleviates stress experienced by the girls, that the payment of school fees provides relief to families who otherwise may not be able to send their daughters to school, and the provision of sanitary pads helps keep girls in schools. By staying in school longer, girls participating in this program are improving their chances of completing their education, delaying child marriage, and increasing opportunity for their personal social and economic growth.
45 tablets with headphones and the RACHEL were purchased to complete the Mobile Learning Lab (MLL). A total of 1,787 girls used this new technology and were able to complete academic schoolwork in addition to learning about menstruation.
YHHS trained 3 teachers and 3 representatives from the District Board Secretary (in addition to 4 YHHS staff) on using the MLL. 78 female leaders, including leaders at churches, community groups and traditional groups, participated in meetings encouraging community support for girls’ education. YHHS also provided mentorship to 45 women through sessions that focused on economic empowerment as a priority to ending violence against women and girls. The mentors successfully reached 378 girls, 85 grandmothers, and 216 parents (male and female) through this activity.
This project has successfully garnered the support of the community and government networks. YHHS is discussing plans with the Ministry of Education for its support in providing the MLL to schools.
The impact and success of the MLL
The MML is this project’s biggest success and YHHS is especially pleased with being able to give rural girls the opportunity to enhance their education through the use of the MLL, which they recognize as an effective tool for promoting poverty reduction, health, education, economic growth, and sustainable development.
YHHS also reports positive changes exhibited by the girls in this program. As a result of this program, girls have access to quality education and are mastering reading, analysis, and writing. School attendance has improved, even despite the COVID-19 pandemic, because girls were provided with essential school utensils, uniforms, and sanitary pads and soap. Moreover, girls are actively participating in class and possess knowledge surrounding their health and rights, including vital knowledge surrounding the prevention of pregnancy.
The MLL is one of a kind in the district and for many of the girls in the program, this has been their first opportunity to engage with technology such as this. As such, YHHS has seen an increase in girls’ engagement in their learning and motivation to attend school. This is particularly important because it means that not only are girls less likely to miss school, but they are also engaging with subjects that are stereotypically seen as ‘masculine’, such as the sciences. Gender equality is foundational to education, health and poverty alleviation and the MLL is one important tool towards achieving progress in these critical area