Engaging young people in the implementation of programs to aid decision making processes on Adolescent Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health can be both tasking and exciting. In 2021, Stand With A Girl (SWAG) Initiative implemented the Data Made Simple (DMS) in 5 states in Nigeria, namely: Niger, Taraba, Edo, Ogun and Plateau. We involved 25 Youth Data Advocates selected from the States Technical Working Groups on Adolescent Health and Development based on their interest, experience in Adolescent Youth Data knowledge, and understanding of AYSRH issues.
The goal of the project was to increase access to sexual and reproductive health information among young people by communicating accurate data on AYSRH from the National Health Management Information System and Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (2018) in a simple, friendly, catchy and responsive formats for decision making.
SWAG Initiative devised an innovative approach that appeals to young people. We used story books to interpret data on adolescent health needs. The story books were made simple using graphics illustrations and infographics which were translated into indigenous languages to engage sub-national policy makers, community gatekeepers, community members, adolescent and development partners to ensure that young people’s access to SRH information and services are promoted.
To effectively achieve these, we engaged and trained Adolescent and Youth Data Advocates (YDAs), Monitoring and Evaluation Officers (M&E) and Adolescent Health Desk Officers in the implementing states on Adolescent and Youth Contraceptive use, Knowledge Management, SMART advocacy, Community Sensitization and Creative Story Writing for decision-making. Similarly, over 100 decision makers (policy makers, community gatekeepers, development partners and donors) were engaged in the effective implementation of Nigeria’s National Adolescent Health Policy through the creative storybooks.
As a result of our achievements in 2021 we received additional funding from Grand Challenge Canada (GCC) in 2022 to scale up the Data Made Simple project in 7 additional states: Anambra, Akwa-Ibom, Bauchi, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Oyo State and the FCT. To effectively implement the project, 84 Youth Data Advocates, Adolescent Health Desk Officers, and M&E officer’s capacity in the implementing states were strengthened. The project achieved remarkable result during the community sensitization and dissemination by reaching an estimation of six thousand (6,000) stakeholders and the storybooks distributed to community members (Adolescents and young people, parents, teachers, health workers, religious leaders and traditional leaders) for quality sexual and reproductive health information among young people in Nigeria.
Through this project, SWAG Initiative was able to recognize the values and potentials of young people. They displayed their strength through the advocacy visits, community sensitization and dissemination of the DMS story books. The Youth Data Advocates used creative initiatives and deployed different Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) approaches acquired during the capacity building training to reach out to decision makers at different levels like the ministries and state agencies, community leaders and youths. The sensitization exercise of community members, youths/adolescents, religious leaders, parents, teachers, were staged in open spaces such as, school environment and market squares. Community members were encouraged to speak up on diverse issues relating to adolescents’ health peculiar to their community and the state at large as it directly affects them.
There is usually no success without challenges. Although the project was a huge success, we encountered challenges during the community sensitization and dissemination exercise in the implementing States.
The project timeline for the sensitization and dissemination of Storybooks were scheduled for August and September. However, it was difficult meeting up with the scheduled timeline due to the different editing processes the story book had to go through. We had challenges with getting graphics illustrators to make designs in line with our vision for the project. As a result this delayed in the graphics production process. Proactive plans have however been made to carry the graphics illustrator along during the capacity building training to help align their art with our vision if an opportunity to extend the project to other remaining states of the country comes up.
Also, weather issues came to play as the rainy season for the year extended to August/September which affected most part of the country and distorted some community sensitization which in turn led to a low turnout of people in some communities. However, the monitoring and evaluation team was able to readjust the timeline for the Sensitization and dissemination process to get a better outcome.
There were also language barrier issues. With the diversity of languages in some of the implementing states made it quite tasking for the YDAs to determine which language was most suitable for the engagements. However, they were able to creatively navigate the situation engaging the community members in role play using pidgin English and local dialect.
Not forgetting Community mobilization as yet another hard nut to crack during the community sensitization process. It is one thing to have the right information, the right medium of communication or even a mastery of your speaking skills and another to get the right people to listen to the right information. Besides the rainy weather, mobilization of community member proved a huge task. In some implementing states of the DMS project, there were gaps in mobilizing the right target groups for the community sensitization and dissemination exercise.
For instance, at some venues of the sensitization exercise in some communities especially in Bauchi, Nasarawa, and the FCT, Adolescent, young people whom were the major target group could not freely speak up on their health needs and challenges due to the fact that, their communities are highly religious. An adolescent standing right before his/her religious leader would rather remain silent than make his/her position know of the problems affecting them. This too was noted with great concern as a lesson to improve on going forward.
Lastly, to evaluate the knowledge gained after the sensitization, a pre-test and post assessments were administered before and after the community sensitizations. This process was difficult amongst non-literate members of the community and amongst members who lacked interest participating in the assessment. Nevertheless, testimonies from community members were taken and noted as part of the knowledge evaluations.
Stand With A Girl (SWAG) Initiative is a registered youth led organization dedicated to ensuring that every girl in Nigeria no matter where she is born or found is empowered to fulfill her maximum potentials. Its goal is to promote a safe and supportive environment for the social, economic, academic and healthy development of girls in Nigeria.