Before the training on the need to engage religious leaders in sexual and reproductive health and rights activities at the various levels, reaching out to adolescents in rural communities especially in Muslim dominated communities was a major challenge for me.
I was responsible for the adolescent health project in ACDEP since 2012, but all this while, the number of adolescents reached, especially in Muslim communities was not more than 50%. This was because parents prevented their wards from taking part in adolescent activities because of misconceptions throughout the community that “strangers” (development workers) have come to “spoil” their children by teaching sex education and other issues bordering on reproductive health. This was a challenge and we used several strategies including opinion leaders, school teachers and even discussions with some parents we perceived as
Religious leaders were not in the picture because we felt they had no role to play in this. However, after the training workshop in Addis Ababa, I decided to give it a try by engaging religious leaders in all communities this project was being implemented. At first the religious leaders themselves felt it was not necessary and that they had nothing to do with them. But after series of meetings and workshops where the reproductive concerns and evidence of the challenges were shared, they realized they could help and that there was the need to do something about it.
With these leaders embracing the need for an intervention, they championed the course and began speaking positive of the work we were doing in the communities and because of their influence and “POWER” at the community level, they were able to easily convince most parents and a lot more of adolescents were able to join. Typical examples are in Nalerigu community in Northern Ghana where we now have adolescent sexual and reproductive health clubs in individual churches and a Mosque.
The number of adolescents in the program have now increased by more than 30% and all these adolescents have been rolled into an mHealth project were they receive weekly SMS on sexual health. I would therefore want to say that the impact of the training of which I was privileged to be part of was great and transformative. Part of the information and knowledge gained was used in my
application to the Royal Tropical Institute, Amsterdam and I am happy to say I am currently doing my MPH-SRHR in this institution.
I would therefore recommend regular meetings, workshops and training as you have just done in Uganda. These efforts have greater impacts than you can imagine.