A workshop that brought together the different stakeholders to the 12+ program, which equips young adolescent girls with various life skills, took place this week in Rubavu district with the aim to develop a successful and sustainable scale-up strategy of the program.
The program was piloted in 2011-12 by the ministry of health in four districts - Huye, Musanze, Kicukiro and Ngoma - with promising results as participants showed increased knowledge and skills in reproductive health, social skills, livelihoods and financial literacy such as saving after the six months the pilot phase covered.
The goals of 12+ include delaying the age of debut of sexual activity, reducing the rate of early pregnancy, reducing the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, along with increasing the girls' access to education and improving their self-esteem, life skills and leadership skills.
As it was pointed out, the choice to target girls between 10 and 12 years of age is significant because not only is that time important and full of changes in a girl's life, that age group also tends to receive inadequate attention by policy makers and programmers.
Kate Wedgwood, the Girl Hub country director, remarked that 12+ tries to give the girls the skills, capacity and confidence to make the transition from childhood, adding that waiting until a girl is 16 to talk to them about reproductive health, peer pressure, challenges and temptations they may meet is not good for by then it is a bit late. "It's better to get the information when they are younger."
The challenge of parents who shy away from discussing reproductive health matters with their daughters is also another gap that the program tries to bridge by guiding the young girls through the use of mentors.
Those mentors are older girls, 18-25 years, who were carefully chosen based on certain predetermined criteria, delivered the program module and served as role models among other activities.
"In the academic year 2010-11 alone, in our district we had 20 young girls who dropped out of school because they were pregnant," highlighted Rachel Rusine Nyirasafari, the vice-mayor of Rubavu in charge of social affairs, explaining that the program should allow the girls to have more knowledge on reproductive health and ability to resist temptations and bad influence by their peers among others.
The program is also expected to contribute to the health ministry's efforts in family planning as the girls are taught about risks they face due to the changing body and what to do to avoid unplanned pregnancies.
"This means that they are taught about family planning methods they can use at a young age, which they grow up knowing," explained Dr. Fidèle Ngabo, the coordinator of maternal and child health in the ministry of health, saying that this contributes to the overall outcome of their efforts.
The program reached 600 young girls in its pilot phase and stakeholders are hoping to reach 120 000 girls in all districts during the first three years of the scale up -hoped to begin in 2013-, which will be no walk in the park as it was pointed out by Dr. Richard Kohl, an expert and consultant in scale strategy.
"The biggest challenge in the process will be the transition from implementation by an NGO to implementation by the government," he said, adding that this will be financial transition as well as to decide who implements the program.
Other expected challenges include getting the girls to participate in rural areas, especially those who may be needed at home for domestic tasks and responsibilities, getting the girls to continue their schooling and changing parents' attitudes among others.
The workshop brought together representatives from government institutions -the ministries of health, education, local government, gender and family promotion, youth-, development partners and NGOs. The looked at the contribution they can bring to the scale up strategy according to their area of work.
The management and oversight of the scale up efforts will be delivered by the health ministry and the principal funding provided by the Nike Foundation and DFID (the UK Department for International Development) through their joint venture Girl Hub.
The beneficiaries of the program will be chosen among the most vulnerable young adolescent girls to be identified along the way, with a special focus on the girls who are not in school.