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UNESCO joins government effort to empower university students in promoting health and well-being

In Tazania, Young people in Higher Learning Institutions also tend to hold both formal and informal discussions, especially on sensitive topics related to their lives such as adolescence, sexuality & reproductive health, Sexual Transmitted Infections & HIV: relationship & gender dynamic and financial matters. Fortunately, most young people tend to open up during such discussions on issues and challenges they experience on such topics. Given that members of the discussion tend to trust one another, speak the same language and in most cases are likely to be exposed to similar challenges, at times such discussions serve as a reference for critical thinking and decision-making. This is why Peer Education programmes are a great asset in promoting healthy behavioural change targeting adolescents and young people in Higher Learning Institutions.

Following a successful implementation of the programme at the University of Dar es Salaam; St. Augustine University of Tanzania-Mwanza (SAUT) and the University of Iringa (UoI), UNESCO continues to support the establishment of the providers’-led, peer-assisted program through the Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future (O3) PLUS Project in the Higher Learning Institutions (HLIs).

With this view in mind, UNESCO’s providers-led, peer-assisted programme has set an exemplary model of empowering University of Dodoma (UDOM) peer educators, who through various approaches including leveraging on both formal and informal discussions, will shape, mould and enhance young people at UDOM to make healthy choices about their lives. In a training that was organized in January 2023, the programme has empowered 80 (36 Female) University of Dodoma students with the necessary knowledge and skills to support and communicate effectively with their peers on matters related to Adolescence and Sexuality; Reproductive Health and Rights, STIs and HIV; Relationships; Gender-Based Violence; and Resources Management.

“In fact, I was in debt through mobile money service since 2019, and every time I tried to pay, I failed, but through this training, I paid ten thousand shillings and decided to get rid of the debt outright” - Peer Educator, University of Dodoma

The training did not only help participants to gain knowledge and skills that will help them to provide support to their mates but also enabled them to practically use the same gains to address their own challenges. For example one of the participants who had been in debt for over 3 years testified how the training personally helped her to overcome the challenge. This testimony was given on the last day of the training demonstrates the extent to which the training content and delivery methodologies were relevant and practical to participants. Certainly, it was not just about money or the lack of it that inhibited the debtor from offsetting the debt, rather, it was more about understanding the need for, and the attitude toward debt repayment. By being exposed to debt management skills, the respective participant was able to see and realize that by not paying debts, she was denying herself the opportunity to save, be trusted, and or do business that would involve making transactions through the respective mobile company.

The testimony and many others are simply a sign that the training had immediate tangible results for the beneficiaries. As an exemplary model for the peer education programme, the management of the University of Dodoma acknowledges that the programme is of its own kind, particularly based on the way the recruitment process is done, the depth and breadth of the training content and the way it is facilitated, and as such, the management commits to embrace it:

“I really wish to appreciate UNESCO for coming up with such a programme that empowers young people to serve as peer counsellors to their colleagues. It would not be easy for me as an adult to talk to young people about their concerns, as most would simply say I am too old to understand their challenges. Thus, UNESCO’s approach of empowering a selected number of students who now serve as peer educators charged with the responsibility of sensitizing and educating their colleagues was a very good idea that we promise to embrace”- Prof. Razak Lokina, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Academic, Research & Consultancy-University of Dodoma

This commitment was made during the closing session of the training, where the guest of honour was the Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Dodoma. The commitment lays a good foundation for enhancing project sustainability and serves as a catalyst for increased attention and support by the respective institution to young people’s challenges in Higher Learning Institutions.

In demonstrating their commitment to promoting behaviour change at their campus, beneficiaries of the programme developed messages resonating on the topics they had learnt, with the view to share and enlighten their colleagues in making healthy choices about their lives and dreams. These messages were shared through various social media platforms including Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp accounts, and they received quite an encouraging number of engagements. These initiatives are likely to be effective in delivering messages to a wider university population as most young people tend to spend a significant portion of their precious time on social media. This is expected to shape young people's discussion, especially on relationship and reproductive issues, thus contributing to addressing among others, unintended pregnancies, GBV Issues and new HIV infections among young people.

“With this exemplary programme set by UNESCO, I am tasking the Director for Students’ Services to ensure that we start budgeting for this programme every year. We will make this programme ours even after the UNESCO project ends” - Prof. Razak Lokina, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Academic, Research & Consultancy-University of Dodoma

O3 Plus project continues to ensure that young people in higher and tertiary education institutions (HTEIs) in Tanzania realize positive health, education, and gender equality outcomes through sustained reductions in new HIV infections, unintended pregnancy, and sexual and gender-based violence. Over the period of 1 year, the project has trained 255 peer educators who have reached 2,644 learners in six university campuses ( Dar es Salaam College Of Education (DUCE), Mkwawa University College Of Education (MUCE), Mbeya College of Health and Allied Sciences (UDSM-MCHAS), University of Dodoma (UDOM), Mineral Resources Institute (MRI- Dodoma) and Mwanza St. Augustine University (SAUT)).

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