Improving access of reproductive health knowledge for adolescent girls in Cameroon

In Cameroon, parent children discussion on sex education is a taboo. When ever an adolescent brings up a topic around  reproductive health or sex  education, they are usually severely punished  and regarded as been disrespectful to their elders. Due to this absence of discussion on sex education, many adolescent young girls face lots of challenges and stigma at their puberty stage, especially during menstruation.Most parents in Cameroon especially in the rural and grassroots areas, don’t know that they have to provide pads for their girl children during menstruation. They don’t even give their girls advice when these children even summon a little courage to inform them that something abnormal is happening with them .According to many parents, these children are very immature and still very young to be able to handle understand and process issues on puberty , reproductive health and menstruation. Because of this lack of discussion between parents and children on sex education, many of these girls, during menstruation are forced to stay away from school because of stigma from boys who often notice blood stains on their uniforms and also the unpleasant odor which  cames out of the bodies as a result.  Their staying away from school, makes them not to be performant as they ought to be like the boys and this plays a key role for their poor performances. Some stay away for two weeks and others for a month, just to avoid this stigma. As a youth advocate to encourage parent children dialogue on sex education and advoacting for Access to reproductive health knowledge, i have had time to hold some trainings with a few groups of adolescent girls to tell me about their experiences.  As a result of lack of menstrual hygiene, due to absence of  dialogue between them and their parents,  i was amazed by the stories i got. Some said, as they approached their parents  when they noticed boold stains on their pants, they were thoroughly scolded and driven away and warned never to discuss any thing on menstruation. Some said, they were forced to carry dry dust and sand to insert into their vaginas in order to stop the bleeding as they knew not what was happening to them. Other stories came up like using  dirty clothes to pad themselves, which was very in hygienic and gave them some genital infections.  As a result of this lack of knowledge on reproductive health for adolescent girls, many have dropped out of school because of unintended pregnancies, some have contracted sexually transmissable infections and others have been forced into early marriages , to the boys that impregnated them. Many of these  adolecents have lost hope for a better future, because they are now in condtions due to necglect and lack of reproductive health knowledge.  so i am hoping to enlightened parents and the community about the importance of sex education and also advocating for this curriculum to be taught in primary and secondary schools in Cameroon. I am hoping, to equally train these adolescent girls on matters of gender equality, menstrual hygiene , family planning and reproductive health as a Whole. In Africa, there is an ardage which says “Charity begins at home” if  discussions between parents and children are initiated at home on sex education, it will go an extra mile to enable parents understand their daughters and support them effectively , so that they will not be statistics of unwanted pregnancies , school drop outs and poor academic performance in school. If Access to knowledge on reproductive health is improved upon  for parents and adolescent girls, then sustainable development will be ensured. I believe that women and girls form an essential link in sustainable development.

Art as a medium? Example from South Africa

@Gentlewest hello and nice to meet you, I don’t think I’ve met anyone from Cameroon until now. Small world, this Internet thing :slight_smile:

How do you see the change in behavior happening? Is anybody speaking publicly about this?

One example of intervention which you might find useful, although i don’t know your background, is throuhg art. @Nabeel_p  is working on awareness raising for public health issues and sets up large public art to get the message across. Some of us found it inspiring - have a look here? Nabeel do you see something like that tailored for reproductive health?

Also, guys: how much exposure of taboo is taboo?

Hello Noemi,

I think, i could easily work with finr artists to talk about reproductive health and other issues of rpime concern to young people.

Thank you

we could collaborate and work together for collective good

DearNeomi,

I am really glad you could make out time to read my article on improving access to reproductive health knowledge for adolescent girls in Cameroon. I will definitely work with together and create social positive impact. I read your story and it was so inspirational. I salute you for your efforts and work. More grease to your elbows

Sustainable Health development

Dear Gentlewest, Hi…

The motivation of health workers to deliver services in developing countries has been described as a critical factor in the success of health systems in implementing programmes. How the sociocultural context and affects the values, motivation and actions involved in sexual and reproductive health services is important for policy development and programme planning. With interest in male circumcision as an HIV prevention option is also necessary, this study explored the perceptions and motivations  involved in sexual and reproductive health services, examining their implications for the possible future roll out of a national programme as well.

Good efforts, keep it up

Dr.Saeed Ahmad Qaisrani

Hello Dr Saeed

Thank you for your encouragements. In fact when i volunteered with the world Bank, which took me to 25 villages in Cameroon to work with community health centers, what i saw grieved me so much in terms of infrstructure, sanitation and equipments. No lights at the clinics and lack of portable drinking water . Patients carry water from natural springs to take their drugs and minor or major surgeries cannot be performed at night due to lack of power supply. All of these, affects the quality of health care delivery. I am currently working on a proposal to help these health units get bore holes and solar enegry to power  up their facilities. Any links, contacts for funding will be of great help.

" If you believe that your product or service can attend to a true need, then it is your moral responsibility to sell it" Zig ziglar

I also salute your work and efforts in the health sector. More grease to your elbows

A reality that is present in many parts of the world

Dear Gentlewest,

This is another issue I have not thought could be added to the long list of being physically a woman. It is very brave what you are planning to. I live and work in Albania and even in this part of the world you might hear stories that do not seem real, all related to gender inequality or bias. We have hymenoplastia, the repair of the hymen in girls/women or the artificial return of virginity which is quit shocking for me to see that is very much common, more than you might think. I have read a lot of reports and articles on FGM and it does not make sense that it is a practice that happens in the US or Europe as well. I wish you luck and success with what you are doing. I have worked for several in the field of reproductive and sexual health, and safe sex. I do not know how I can be of help but I would love to if there will be any possibility; the world is actually smaller than it seems. Good luck again!

Dear Shakaerjola, i am so glad to read from you

Hello, it takes a like minded person to connect and identify with another mind doing same activities to foster development and inspire change. I am so delighted to hear from you and on your positive comments. Actually, my goal here is not to make people feel sorry for Africans, or to paint a dark picture and exagerate facts. My goal here is to let people be aware of issues whose practices has created a negative impact on th lives of Cameroonians and Africans. Till today, our elders think, young people are not qualified to talk about matters of sex education with them. As i pointed out in my article, theis alone makes young people vulnerable to wrong practices  and getting information from doubtful sources to help themselves. We have stories of young girls seeing blood in their private which they, didn’t understand it was menstruation, poured plenty of dust and dry ground on their vaginas to stop the blood flow. I am working with a dedicated team of volunteers to extensively spark healthy discussions about reproductive health and menstrual hygiene management. We have organized a series of information events, training workshops and seminars to educate youths on reproductive health and family planning. FGM which is a form of Gender based violence is widely practiced in Cameroon and we are doing  plenty of advocacy to work with traditional leaders to abolish such obnoxious cultural practices that  expose girls and women to violence  and  HIV. I have some reports of activities which i have done in Cameroon.If you are interested, i will be glad to share with you. Here is my email: mbotiji@gmail.com

I will be glad to connect and discover you more and of course you will be the reason why, i will visit the beautiful country of Albania.

With Personal Warm Regards

Eric Mbotiji

Secretary General ,United Nations Youth Association of Cameroon

Assessor, Duke of Edinburgh International Awards Cameroon

President,Net Impact Professional Chapter Bamenda

(+237) 670345904/670708533

Distributed teaching

Hi @Gentlewest I have long thought about a concept for more effective teaching with the help of cheap (repairable) mp3 players and small printed cards for illustrations. The original idea behind this is to reach really rural and remote people and provide them with good access to useful information. But to start this I was thinking about which lectures make most sense - and I think you have a very good example of one (I also agree with @saeed.qaisrani ). So I think the wider topic of hygiene & health would be most helpful.

I have already made a small collection of mp3 players, ear plugs for listening, some spare parts, and solar for charging the batteries. I have started to test them for reliability and easiness to repair and I am hopeful that most will survive many months before they have to be repaired. I think the cost of the audio lecture was 0.001-0.0005 EUR per minute (+ the cost of recording the lecture). The mp3 players cost about 3 EUR but the memory card also cost 1 EUR for 1 GB of storage (which is plenty). Sooo:

1 Player needs to run for 4000 to 8000 minutes (66.7 hours). A fresh player will have to charge about 15-20 times for that. So that means they have to survive about 3 weeks of one use per day on average. If they survive longer or get repaired cheaply (very possible) then it gets significantly cheaper.

If you know what illustrations are needed those could be printed on a robust support (e.g. playing cards or similar). Some of them could also be designed to be copied by hand (e.g. as a memory exercise).

A couple of advantages:

  • you know what gets taught

  • kids could be working at the same time, or be at home

  • less humans in the loop (has some disadvantages, but is perhaps helpful against corruption)

  • no literacy required

Let me know if you are interested. I have much more thought on that but I really need advice from someone who knows the real problems in Cameroon much better.

Feel free to get in touch. We can also skype or similar - it may be a bit easier to explain & understand then.

Dear Saeed, i am so humbled and honored to read from you

I am so delighted to read from you. I salute you for the effort and initiative to extensive make reproductive health knowledge spread across the world. What a wonderful initiative to do so. If i may add, these MP3 players could be as well be made  exclusively just to carry information od Reproductive health and rights and with some good educational music added to it. Youths will love this and it will actually sell. Instead of making a model that will need solar charging, we could making a small portable device like any other player that takes memory card as well , which is rechargeable.

I will love to work out something with you. Lets connect. get in touch at : (+237) 670708533

:Looking forward to read from you soon.

The “Big Picture”

Hey @Gentlewest let me post a very technical picture here which has lots of stuff in there (we will probably not even need half of that). This is most of the hardware I have collected around the general idea already.  I can explain it all in detail, but probably it is best to discuss what you actually NEED first.

( @Matthias can you increase upload limit a tad, my new phone camera spits out 5.2 MB… this cost me 3 attempts and 30 minutes. Also mentioning this because it is still related to the project we discussed in Nepal context ).

Thia here includes many spare parts, a small radio station, a powerful loudspeaker, voice recorders to takes tests and get feedback, etc.

I like your idea about including music - and I had thought something similar. On Jamendo.com we could get free music without any legal trouble. Because the mp3 players are relatively simple (you can only go forward or backward by one complete track) one could put the lecture before the music in the same track. So they would have to listen to the lecture before they get to the music. This will be some extra work in the beginning but I think you made a good point. It is possible to do ALL KINDS of sound editing in a program called audacity (http://sourceforge.net/projects/audacity/) but I think it would be good to find something more simple.

Another thing one could offer are more or less educational stories - e.g. for language courses (e.g. from Librivox.com). But all that is a different topic.

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A few explanations

So this concept is pretty flexible and I already had a discussion with @Gentlewest via skype to hear what would make most sense for a “start small initiative”. That would probably be about 25-30 mp3 players with small memory cards (128 MB will suffice for up to 8 hours of spoken word audio). The players will run 3-4 hours when new and charged fully (usually have a tiny 70mAh x 3.7V LiPo battery). That will be more than enough for 1-2 lectures + some music for an entertaining and relaxing break.

Each of the players will be used by a group of 2 students (usually girls, but if somehow possible I would love to include some boys into this as well e.g. some that have younger sisters to look after).

One can complement this “intimate lecture” by 1. a short intro for everyone via loudspeaker (also allows for questions to be answered for everyone). 2. A discussion period where the 2 students can ask each other questions and discuss things they did not understand. Then some can be interviewed e.g. in groups of 4 with 1 interviewer recording the discussion in order to have feedback for continuous improvement (I’d recommend doing 3 of these 4+1 format interviews: 1 with the smartest, 1 with the kids that likely had the most difficulty (and would likely be disruptive in a larger group), and 1 with random pairs). These interviews are not to grade the students but to find where most misunderstandings remain, and where the lecture needs to be improved or go deeper.

The other students can have a more regular question & answer lecture. If you visit a group of approximately 50 students, you’d ideally have 2-4 people to run the hole thing. 1 to do the recorded 4+1 interviews one after the other, and 1 to deliver the interactive lecture.

After the lecture you carefully check if you get all materials (including memory cards) back. Then they need to be charged for about 1 hour each using 5V and a mini-usb cable. One could also do a multi day event if there are enough power supplies there. The power supplies are probably among the most expensive things. ASIN: B00MLTTO6Y will do 4 x 5V USB for 6 EUR as step down from e.g. small a car battery, ASIN: B00K67X8PQ does 1 x 5V step up from e.g. 1-2 AA batteries for approx 1.50 EUR. (By the way these would also allow you to run or charge small USB-LEDs or other USB based items such as phones)

Any super-old USB phone charger will likely also work fine because the power the mp3 players need is super small (10x less than most phones). Also the small solar panels can charge the battery directly in direct sunlight (just be careful things stay below 40 C).

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Sam, you rock???

I am so glad we had that discussion yesterday. you left me so happy and i really was amazed how simple and humble you are to key in with my idea and with your beautiful concept of MP3 players with memory cards , with one hour of spoken word on reproductive health education , with light music carefully selected for their entertainment as well. These Kids in Cameroon especially in Orphanages will love this and t will totally work. i wish to invite all the participants of this community to join us and lets empower young people in orphanages in Cameroon with these MP3 players containing quality and verified information about reproductive health education and menstrual hygiene management, head phones and memory cards. You could join I and Sam in this venture to educate young people.

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