Nova Scotia-Gambia Association’s ultimate goal is to empower African children and youth with education so they can teach their friends and loved ones how to live healthy lives. Together they work to build vibrant communities with bright futures. Its programs also have a special focus in improving gender equity and the empowerment of women and girls.
Projects receive support from national and international funders in addition to significant in-kind and financial contributions from individual participants.
What is Peer Health Education?
Methodology of NSGA’s Peer Health Education Program
Teams of peer health educators (PHEs) in each participating school are provided with up-to-date information on the major health issues confronting youth in their area, and trained in presentation skills to enable them to make a positive impact on their fellow students, out-of-school youth and members of their community.
The work of the PHEs in each school is coordinated by a trained guidance counsellor and/or teacher, who facilitates their work within the school. They ensure that the PHEs have the support of administrators and staff; monitor their presentations for accuracy, quality and effectiveness; and generally provide on-site coaching, encouragement and logistical assistance.
The PHEs engage the interest of their fellow students and other audiences by the liveliness, clarity, variety, relevance and interactive quality of their presentations. They usually employ dramatic techniques (role plays, skits, short dramas) to bring current health issues to the attention of their audience, then engage the audience in dialogue about the issues presented and follow up with factual information, problem solving exercises, role plays involving members of the audience and other interactive activities.
PHEs also create posters and other visual displays on the key issues, put on relevant video programs and invite guest speakers on health topics to address the students at assemblies. They are trained to use print and electronic media to reach a larger audience, and to use the internet to remain up-to-date on the topics they are teaching.
In rural villages and on radio and television, they will usually conduct their presentation in one or more of the local (national) languages.
In some schools, PHEs may establish their own “teen health centre” where students may come for peer counselling. They also work in collaboration with the school counsellor to reach as large a sector of the student population as possible.
When the PHEs have established their credibility with their peers through their knowledge and expertise with respect to the key health and social issues (such as reproductive health, STIs, HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, self-esteem, problem-solving, nutrition and environmental issues), their peers will look up to them as role models and for assistance in coping with personal problems relevant to maintaining good health and well being.
PHEs encourage the establishment of peer health education teams and will assist in training them. They also help train their own replacements in anticipation of their graduation.
Their aim is to hold a mirror up to their own society and encourage their peers and other audiences to firstly examine the consequences of common health-related actions and behaviours which may put individuals and groups at risk, and secondly to adopt behaviours which lead to personal and community health and well being.
Nova Scotia-Gambia Association uses two main approaches to deliver its development projects and programs to Gambians:
Peer Health Education
A peer health education model passes important life lessons from classmate to classmate, child to parent, and neighbour to neighbour. Over 150 schools work with NSGA to enable peer health education in their classrooms and schoolyards.
A) Breaking taboos around sexual and reproductive health – A discussion around sexual health between parents and their children is not ‘the norm’ in Gambian societies. In fact, discussing sex in general is considered a taboo in most Gambian households. In addition, sexual health is not a priority in the Gambian education system. Therefore, most children and youth learn about their bodies from peers. Without the proper knowledge, children can pass along incorrect information about sexual health to their peers, leading to life-changing consequences. NSGA’s programming helps to break these taboos and create spaces for Gambian youth to learn about and practice safe sexual and reproductive health practices
B) Practical education to curb preventable illness and disease – In the Gambia there are many health challenges, especially when it comes to preventable illness and disease. Although these issues require major coordination and sustained intervention to contain and reverse, there are at the same time many everyday behavioural changes that can be undertaken by communities to help curb their impact. Peer health education builds capacity in communities, empowering people to make more informed decisions about their health via accessible and culturally sensitive programming. The NSGA currently provides programming on topics including but not limited to Malaria, TB, HIV/AIDS and other STI prevention, and food/water/sanitation safe practices.
C) Empowering young leaders of tomorrow – Peer health education by its nature fosters and develops strong facilitation and leadership skills in the youth it engages, and youth PHEs become strong role models for their fellow students and in their communities. They leave the program with a range of tools for effective engagement, and an enhanced sense of confidence.
How do we do it?
- NSGA works with The Gambia’s Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education to implement a peer health education and training model in schools.
- Each school that participates identifies 30 students as the official peer health educators.
- Two teachers (referred to as teacher coordinators) from each school are identified to support and guide peer health educators.
- At the beginning of each academic year, NSGA conducts training workshops for teacher coordinators all across the country.
- Peer health educators receive regular training from teacher coordinators and NSGA staff on various components of health and wellbeing, such as: HIV/AIDS, malaria, sexual health, water sanitation, leadership, good governance, etc.
- NSGA produces and distributes resource materials for all peer health education teams to reference throughout the year.
- NSGA staff also train peer health educators in public speaking, theatre and design to aid in their outreach activities throughout the year. Peer health educators are responsible for presentations, information sessions, acting in plays and creating awareness posters – all of which help deliver important life saving lessons.
Reach and Benefits
- At least 159 schools use peer health education across the country each year.
- More than 300 teachers are trained each year to facilitate peer health education in their schools.
- Leadership is built among students as they take pride in organizing their outreach plans and serve as resource to the entire school.
- Peer health educators know what issues they need to focus on at any given time. It could range from teenage pregnancy to using mosquito nets to reduce cases of malaria.
Community cinema nights are an effective way to deliver health and safety education outside of schools in The Gambia. Men, women and children of all ages are invited to attend.
Why Community Cinema?
- Interactions and dialogue in Gambian communities are often defined by gender, age and social status. For example, men will generally discuss issues of community concern only with other men.
- There are rarely opportunities for different groups in a given community to come together at an equal platform and discuss issues of concern.
How do we do it?
- NSGA staff conduct focus groups with community leaders to identify specific challenges and needs that should be addressed. Issues can range from increased teenage pregnancy rates, sexual abuse, child abuse, increased cases of malaria, landmine incidents, gender issues (e.g. poor enrolment of girls in schools), etc.
- Staff and volunteers work with NSGA’s media unit to develop short and creative films on the issues identified.
- Experienced NSGA staff travel to different communities to host community cinema nights. Included in the evening’s events are moderated Q&A sessions as well as additional education on the issues addressed in the film. The dialogue that occurs after the films is one way that communities unite and face challenges head on.
- NSGA staff conduct follow-up sessions to measure progress and offer guidance where needed.
Reach and benefits
- Approximately 100 community cinema nights are organized each year across The Gambia.
- Attendance at a community cinema night ranges from 75 to 2000 people depending on the size of the community.
- Dialogue is fostered among community members. As a result, participation of women and children addressing community challenges has significantly increased.
Heller-Skinn Sponsorship Fund
About 49% of Gambians are under 18 years old and more than 60% of the population are under the age of 30 (census 2003). Investing in education today is crucial to the future of The Gambia.
Post Secondary education is relatively expensive in a country with 69% of the population living below the poverty line. The HHSF replaces the Alberta-Gambia scholarship fund, which was supported by Lyle Harrison, and has benefitted more than 100 young Gambians. Dennis Heller and family were guests of NSGA in December, 2010 and decided to start a scholarship program in support of education in The Gambia. The fund started in August of 2011 and is in its fifth year. The Heller family contributes $5000 to the scholarship program with additional contributions from family and friends. The fund currently supports Gambian youth looking to attain university education on home soil.
NSGA is proud of its partnership with the Hellers in building a future for young Gambians. The scholarship fund encourages contributions from anyone! Contact our offices for additional details.
Did you know that:
- Ninety percent of all malaria deaths in the world occur in Sub Saharan Africa.
- Malaria remains one of the leading causes of death in The Gambia.
- Pregnant women and children under the age of five are most vulnerable to malaria. Malaria is the cause of 20% of deaths in children under five in The Gambia.
- NSGA’s malaria program focuses on prevention and treatment. We educate on behavioural change techniques and we promote prompt and correct malaria treatment.
- NSGA develops public service announcements that promote the use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets. This is done annually and reaches more than half the population of The Gambia via television and radio.
- NSGA works with local partners in The Gambia under the Global Fund Malaria project.
Did you know that:
– Over half a billion people living in Africa don’t have access to clean water? (AMRF 2011)
Globally, 115 people die every hour from diseases linked to poor sanitation, poor hygiene and contaminated water? (WHO)
In The Gambia, diarrhea is a major health concern for children under the age of five, and 17% of deaths in this group are due to diarrhea?
Our water programs are tied to four major components;
- Education on water borne diseases
- Promotion of healthy water habits
- Awareness creation on water scarcity and the promotion of safer water conservation methods
- Promotion of sustainable healthy living through proper hygiene and sanitation
NSGA runs its water education programs in 26 rural communities and schools using peer health education and community cinema. NSGA continues to facilitate community information sessions with parents to raise awareness and offer sustainable alternatives to improving water quality. We work in partnership with Saint Mary’s University, Sisters of Charity and other Canadian Foundations to implement water programs in The Gambia.
Healthy Relationships & Life Skills
Did you know that:
- Life skills are abilities that help us to adapt and behave positively so that we can deal effectively with the challenges of everyday life? (WHO)
- Life skills are behaviour changes or behaviour development approaches designed to address a balance of three areas: knowledge, attitude and skills? (UNICEF)
- We need Life Skills to develop a dynamic self image, great self esteem, to improve our decision making ability and to make informed decisions?
Our Life Skills program is tied to four major components:
- The Bridge Model of Behavioural change
- Cyberbullying prevention
- Critical thinking and decision making skills
- Promotion of mental well-being through social and coping skills
NSGA works with local partners in The Gambia to teach healthy relationship and life skills via peer health education and community cinema. Partners currently include the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, the Ministry of Health, and the National Youth Council.