“In Pakistan when women say they want independence, people think this means we don’t want to obey our fathers, brothers or husbands. But it does not mean that. It means we want to make decisions for ourselves. We want to be free to go to school or to go to work.”

– Malala Yousafzai.

Malala is a global voice for education of girls and women. She is a perfect example of how adolescents can create change and make the world a better place. She started using her pen and paper to advocate for female education at the age of eleven and by the age of 16, she had risen to prominence due to the significant impact of her humanitarian work that almost ended her life.

"It is everyone's responsibility to ensure that wherever you are, you empower girls to speak out. Girls have to demand a space for their voices to be heard. Therefore, we urge African governments to support and uplift girls, and make a firm decision to end child marriage." – these are the words of Natasha Mwansa, a bold 17 year old advocate against child marriage from Zambia. Malala and Natasha are leading examples of how adolescents are leading change on pertinent issues that affect young people across the world.

Globally there are 1.2 billion adolescents, the largest number ever in human history. According to a fact sheet report, half of the population in 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 18 [1]. It is estimated that there are 30 million Nigerians between 10 – 19 years old. This means that the number of adolescents in Nigeria is more than the total population of over 40 different countries across Africa. Although this demographic bulge can be harnessed with proper planning and adequate investment in adolescents, the challenges currently facing adolescents are enormous. In 2018 the Director General of the National Agency for Control of AIDS (NACA) announced that “Nigeria has the second highest burden of adolescents living with HIV as 240,000 adolescents in the country representing 10 percent globally are living with the disease”. Nigerian Urban and Reproductive Health Initiative 2 (NURHI 2) reported in 2017 that 25% of adolescents in Nigeria are sexually active with the age of sexual debut ranging from 10 – 15 years. Other challenges include increasing rates of substance abuse among adolescents, gender based and domestic violence and forced and early marriage. These are issues of primary importance to Lighthouse Global Health Initiative (LGHI). LGHI is a non-profit organization which envisions a world where vulnerable populations (especially adolescents, women and rural dwellers) lead healthy and productive lives.

It is against this backdrop of positioning adolescents as assets for national and sustainable development that LGHI, with a $5,000 grant from Women Deliver and institutional strengthening support from Hewlett-Packard, launched the Teens Thrive Project in August 2018. The project aims to leverage technology to improve adolescents’ health and leadership potentials by providing adolescent-friendly platform where health education, professional counseling and referral services are offered. The focus of the services are on life building skills, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), HIV/AIDS, mental health, non-communicable diseases, and substance abuse in an integrated manner. The geographic target area of the project is Osogbo, the capital of Osun state in Nigeria. Some of the main objectives of the project were to recruit and train at least 10 young health professionals (including physicians, pharmacists and nurses) to be able to provide adolescent-friendly SRHR counseling and services and to build capacity of 10 adolescents as Teens Thrive Ambassadors (TTAs) who will implement peer-focused integrated adolescent health projects in at least five secondary schools in Osun state, Nigeria.

Within the six-month duration of the project, we were able to recruit and train 10 young health professionals (six females and four males) on provision of adolescents-friendly SRHR counseling and services. There were four pharmacists, three nurses, two medical doctors and one health administrator in attendance at the workshop. We also recruited and trained 10 adolescents (five boys and five girls) within the age range of 15 and 17 years for a period of one month as Teens Thrive Ambassadors. The training for the ambassadors covered personal awareness and development, sexual and reproductive health and rights, HIV/AIDS, Child’s Right Act (a law in Nigeria to protect the rights of every one less than 18 years of age), Sustainable Development Goals, project management, proposal writing, monitoring and evaluation, Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs), substance and drug abuse, advocacy/communication, team work/leadership and money management. After the intensive training, we hosted a Teens Thrive Conference where we had over 100 adolescents from five secondary schools in Osogbo in attendance. The TTAs pitched their project ideas during the conference and five of them won $100 grants each to support their peer-focused project. At the end of January when we concluded this project, over 1,050 adolescents within the age range of 10 – 18 years had been reached through the adolescent led-project across five secondary schools in Osun state. Some of the strategies used by the adolescents were intra-school debates, film shows, and seminars on adolescent leadership, SRH, right to education, drug abuse and forced early marriage.

Our strategy of building the capacity of adolescents to reach out to their peers not only helped us to reach more adolescents within a short time frame, but also helped to equip and boost the self-esteem of the Teens Thrive Ambassadors who wrote proposals, pitched their ideas, won grants and successfully implemented projects within their budget and time frame. According to Segun Adekeye, a 17 year old Nigerian and Teens Thrive Ambassador, “The entire process ultimately increased my ability on project planning, implementation, time and money management. I thank LGHI for making me more responsible and set me on the path of fulfillment. I would love to continue to be part of the system”. At LGHI we strongly believe that adolescents are better positioned to influence their peers and help create the sustainable future we all hope to see.

UNFPA, 2014

 

 

Adebisi Adenipekun is an advocate and a Women Deliver Young Leader. The Women Deliver Young Leaders Program is a catalyst for rising advocates, providing access to small grants, training, a digital university, speaking opportunities, and networking. Since 2010, a total of 700 young people from 138 countries have increased their impact through the award-winning program so far. Many will be coming together in Vancouver this June for Women Deliver 2019, the world’s largest conference on gender equality. This piece was produced in partnership between Women Deliver and Wellbeing for Women.

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