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Young people

Young people

 

UNFPA Sierra Leone’s key interventions to empower adolescents and young people cover a range of services that include providing life skills to young people, youth-friendly health services and safe spaces and girls’ clubs. These measures are designed to support livelihoods and develop capacity, as well as to build personal knowledge and social environments that promote good health and personal safety.

 

Keeping girls in school and providing opportunities in the midst of COVID-19

UNFPA works to ensure that young people are provided with opportunities and skills to reach their full potential. This includes supporting the Government to keep girls in school and ensuring that vulnerable young people are equipped with key life skills to thrive. In March 2020, the Government of Sierra Leone made the decision to close schools in order to slow  the spread of COVID-19 in the country. The closure also applied to government operated community learning centres.   

 

In 2020, UNFPA continued to co-chair the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education’s Reproductive Health Taskforce along with the Chief Education Officer. The taskforce aimed to review and develop policy on pregnant girls’ access to education and their rights in schools; identify bottlenecks to adolescents’ access to education; plan for the development of a Comprehensive Sexuality Education curriculum and guidelines for all schools; and consider resource mobilization to support the roll-out of recommendations and interventions from the taskforce.

 

Informed by the recommendations of the Reproductive Health Taskforce, the Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education overturned the ban on pregnant adolescent girls attending school. In order to support the reintegration of pregnant adolescents and adolescent mothers into formal education, UNFPA, Purposeful, Irish Aid, UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and other development partners, supported the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education in drafting a Radical Inclusion Policy. This policy not only outlines the necessary steps to successfully reintegrate pregnant adolescents and adolescent mothers into schools, but also sets forth key interventions for other vulnerable populations identified by the Reproductive Health Taskforce, such as students with disabilities.

 

Comprehensive sexuality education

Comprehensive sexuality education is a rights-based and gender-focused approach to sexuality education, whether in school or out of school. It goes beyond information, helping young people to explore and nurture positive values regarding their sexual and reproductive health. In March 2020, the Reproductive Health Taskforce finalized a Comprehensive Sexuality Education road map. This road map outlined the necessary steps to roll out an integration of comprehensive sexuality education into the curriculum. UNFPA, with funding from Irish Aid and the Global Programme to End Child Marriage, has supported the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education in integrating comprehensive sexuality education into the Basic Education Curriculum framework and into the syllabi of five key subjects: social studies, integrated sciences, religious and morality education, home economics and  physical health education.

 

Supporting girls in continuing with their learning during the pandemic

 

Radio teaching programme

Equipped with learning from the Ebola outbreak, UNFPA worked with the Government of Sierra Leone to mitigate the negative effects of school closures. In order to ensure that vulnerable and marginalized adolescents were provided with essential life skills information during the COVID-19 pandemic, UNFPA worked with the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education and the Teaching Service Commission to record and air life skills radio lessons. With funding from Irish Aid, these lessons, entitled ‘I am Somebody’, were largely based on content from the national life skills manual of the same name. Age appropriate information was devised and   the lessons were split into two categories: for young people aged 9–13 and aged 14–19.  Each life skill lesson was facilitated by teachers from the Teaching Service Commission. Every lesson included contributions from adolescent girls and boys, making the lessons appealing to young people. Furthermore, staff from the Ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs and the National Secretariat for the Reduction of Teenage Pregnancy joined specific lessons as expert guests. In total, 99 lessons based on the national life skills manual were produced and aired between April 2020 and December 2020.  In addition to material from ‘I am Somebody’, UNFPA also supported the production of 11 lessons based on content adapted from the BRAC Readers Series. These lessons took the form of radio dramas with question and answer sessions.

 

To ensure vulnerable and marginalized girls had access to the life skills radio lessons, UNFPA worked with the national NGO Women in Crisis Movement, to distribute 2,000 radios to identified girls.  All 110 episodes of the radio lessons were uploaded to a podcast hosting platform and are available to be streamed and downloaded on all major podcast services, such as Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

 

Distribution of back-to-school kits

 A 2016 UNICEF Out of School Study found that additional costs of education were a major barrier to vulnerable and marginalized adolescents accessing education. Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted livelihoods and created further economic instability, a greater number of adolescent girls were at risk of not being able to re-enter school due to additional costs such as uniforms, pens and exercise books. With funding from Irish Aid, UNFPA responded to this issue by working with Women in Crisis Movement to procure and distribute back-to-school kits. Each kit contained a uniform, a school bag, five exercise books, a mathematical set, pencils, pens and a plastic file. These back-to-school kits were distributed to vulnerable girls across the districts of Port Loko, Kambia and Pujehun, allowing 1,000 adolescent girls to return to school with dignity.  

 

Strengthening coordination of efforts to end adolescent pregnancy and child marriage

As part of our efforts to reduce adolescent pregnancy and child marriage in Sierra Leone, UNFPA works to strengthen the capacity of the Government of Sierra Leone to implement priority areas of the National Strategy for the Reduction of Adolescent Pregnancy and Child Marriage.

 

In 2020, with funding from Irish Aid, UNFPA continued to support the National Secretariat for the Reduction of Teenage Pregnancy. Sixteen youth advisory panelists, including two young women with disabilities, were supported to conduct advocacy activities in their districts. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Youth Advisory Panel continued to contribute to the work of the National Secretariat for the Reduction of Teenage Pregnancy. For example, panelists ensured that the Secretariat’s communications efforts and materials were youth friendly. Furthermore, one of the panelists with a disability participated in a series of four radio discussion programmes dealing with issues relating to adolescent pregnancy and child marriage in the context of COVID-19.  These programmes were aired nationally during August and September,2020.

 

In November 2020, UNFPA supported the National Secretariat for the Reduction of Teenage Pregnancy to hold a mid-term review of the National Strategy for the Reduction of Adolescent Pregnancy. The mid-term review allowed stakeholders to acknowledge several examples of good practice which can be built upon; identified how challenges faced can be mitigated; and understand how a changing context has affected implementation. The mid-term review report will be finalized in early 2021 and will be a valuable resource to build upon lessons learned and strengthen implementation of the National Strategy for the Reduction of Adolescent Pregnancy and Child Marriage.

 

Empower youth as leaders in their communities

Sierra Leone has a young population, with 80 per cent of the total population aged 35 and under (2015 Census). UNFPA recognizes the core role of youth in the future development of the country. As such, UNFPA supported 300 youth councillors with training in preventing GBV, sexual reproductive health and COVID-19 over the course of 2020. The training sessions were held in all 16 districts of Sierra Leone, and offered presentations and engaging lessons in these areas. The youth councillors also led 300 follow-up sensitization events in their communities to disseminate the messages widely. During the year, UNFPA also supported the National Youth Service Youth Corpers, with two Corpers being placed in the UNFPA country office.