The Student Partnership Worldwide (SPW)’s country director, Sebastian Barraud, has given a situation analysis of the youth in Sierra Leone
He said, “Sierra Leone, and indeed, the world face two huge challenges today: how to ensure the youth are productively employed and included in the decision making processes which affect them most and how to ensure adequate basic health services and information reach the most vulnerable communities to avoid the further deterioration of indicators, including the rise in HIV infection.”
However he pointed out that, “SPW’s programmatic approach makes a direct link between the two challenges.”
Mr Barraud explained that they were primarily working with youths which place young people at the forefront of positive behaviour change and sustainable development and also aimed at educating and raising awareness among young people about HIV/AIDS and Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH), life skills, environmental and human rights issues
Since September 2005 SPW Sierra Leone has recruited and trained 160 young people from across the country as volunteer professional peer educators (PPEs). Successful candidates were chosen for their conviction that young people have a powerful role to play in the reconstruction of their country, their readiness to experience life beyond the comfort of their home communities, and their ability to convey key messages about life skills, HIV/AIDS, reproductive health and other development issues using a range of media including drama, dance, debate, workshops, radio and song.
After one month intensive training, SPW volunteers are placed in pairs in rural communities where they live full time for a period of eight months. PPEs conduct life skills and sexual reproductive health lessons in primary and secondary schools and run workshops, clubs, awareness raising events and community sensitization campaigns.
These volunteers after their time ended with SPW have decided to continue with positive behaviour drive and have been operating an association they called the Ex-Volunteers Network.
The network is organised and led by ex-SPW-SL professional peer educators: young people who have completed a full year placement with SPW Sierra Leone leading behaviour change programmes in rural communities. These young people continue to be active in life skills and reproductive health sensitization and education and with support from SPW SL lead a range of multi media ventures to raise awareness about key issues affecting young people.
Since its inception in September 2006, SPW ex-volunteers have made their mark leading activities during International Volunteering Day, World AIDS Day and providing training in non formal education techniques to Ministry of Education staff and several NGOs. Youth Information Centres offering peer advice and counseling on sexual health issues and other services are due to be opened in institutes of higher learning later in the year.
Currently SPW Sierra Leone (SPWSL) operates in Bo, Pujehun, Bombali, Tonkolili, Bonthe and Kambia. Recent evaluation of the programme shows the pilot to have been effective in increasing young people’s awareness that they are at risk of contracting HIV, and in changing their sexual behaviour.
The programme will be nationwide by 2010 with a total of 144 PPEs full time in the field and an ever growing number of ex-volunteers active in their home towns and districts.