Since I was a young girl, I always had a dream that when I grow up I will help vulnerable families in my community to overcome poverty. I wanted to encourage young girls to be more confident and self-reliant. This dream came true in June 2021 when I founded a local NGO named Grown to Help. For almost two years now, we’ve provided adolescent girls with information in sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), self-leadership and confidence.
We’ve reached more than 200 girls in Kigali, Rwanda. In addition, we train women who are heads of vulnerable families in financial literacy and small businesses creation. We group them in a saving groups, support them financially to help them start their income-generating activities, with an aim of improving their livelihoods and ultimately being able to sponsor their children’s education.
The majority of families in my neighborhood are vulnerable.
Most of them are large families whose fathers have abandoned them due to poverty and mothers stay with many responsibilities that surpass their capacities. Many of them are young mothers who can’t read and write, or they have dropped out of school, due to a lack of financial and moral support. These women and their children, especially the young girls are the ones to suffer most from the consequences.
Girls get pregnant or get married young. There are high rates of school dropout, teen pregnancies and premature parenthood among girls who have reached puberty. This is why I engaged to advocate for girls in public schools – to help them access comprehensive education and services related to SRHR. Moreover, to improve the vulnerable women’s economic livelihoods through women economic empowerment programs.
As of 2022, Rwanda’s population is estimated to be around 13.2 million people. With 61.8% of the population being under the age of 25, there are approximately 8.3 million young people in Rwanda.
Access to SRHR education and services in public schools in Rwanda has been a topic of concern for many years.
Rwanda has made significant progress in improving its healthcare system since the 1994 genocide, which left the country in ruins. However, access to sexual and reproductive health and rights education and services is still limited, especially in public schools.
In Rwanda, sex education is taught in schools as part of the biology curriculum. Yet, the content of this education is often limited to anatomy and physiology. It has little emphasis on sexual and reproductive health and rights. A recent study showed that only 36% of young people have comprehensive knowledge about HIV/AIDS, and only 47% have knowledge about contraception.
Access to sexual and reproductive health services is also limited in public schools and often limited to HIV testing and counseling. There is often very little or no access to contraception or other forms of sexual and reproductive health services.
The lack of access to sexual and reproductive health education and services in public schools in Rwanda has serious consequences for young people.
Teenage pregnancy rates are high in Rwanda, with one in seven girls aged 15-19 either pregnant or already a mother.
This can lead to girls dropping out of school, which can have long-term consequences for their future opportunities. It makes them the most vulnerable group in our country.
There is a need to improve the present quality of these services to meet adolescents’ needs in an urban setting. Adolescents are still getting pregnant and contracting HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in Rwanda. Studies revealed that the high rate of HIV infection is among girls aged 24 and under.
The Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion in Rwanda reported a total of 13,000 girls aged under 19 dropped out of school due to teen pregnancies from August to December 2022 in Rwanda. This is a concerning issue as it not only affects the education and future prospects of these young girls, but also has wider implications for the country’s development and progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Young people face challenges in accessing SRH information and services, especially comprehensive sexuality education, contraception, menstrual health and hygiene products. It’s believed that adolescents should not engage in sexual activities and thus should not need access to SRHR information and services without parental consent. Furthermore, parents of adolescents tend to hold to conservative beliefs that make discussion around their child’s sexual and reproductive health a taboo.
In schools, information about SRHR is often incomplete and teachers are not equipped to deliver comprehensive sexuality education in a non-judgmental, stigma-free way.
Quality and comprehensive SRHR services and information for adolescents in public school are essential for their wellbeing, in order to create healthy, confident, and prosperous future generation.
To achieve our goal many interventions have to be done. Through Grown to Help, we partner up with public schools and other local organizations that are working on the same issue. Together we conduct training in SRHR to both girls and boys who are students in public schools – and to teachers. We form clubs named Learn About Me (LAM), to help us in monitoring and evaluation and in project sustainability. We support vulnerable girls in public school to access free sanitary pads, helping them keep their dignity and confidence during menstruation. In addition, we elect clubs’ champions to update them on new information. We train them to become agents of change in their own communities once they graduate from school.
Alone we can do something but together we can do a lot.
At Grown to Help we believe in the power of collaboration. We are looking for potential partners who can provide support in form of volunteers, experts in SRHR to train our team and make training facilitation materials and curriculums together with us. And donors to provide us with funds to expand our project and sustain this program.