"The need for communication skills is what I really saw in the club – because there wasn’t anyone who taught us that before. The Youth Space is where we first learned that."
In June 2016 Projet Jeune Leader was supported by the Population Action International’s YOUAccess Fund to expand our school-based model for comprehensive sexual-reproductive health education to three rural schools in Madagascar. The main objective of this project was to increase family planning and reproductive health resources, information, and services for 2,500 young Malagasy adolescents between October 2016 and July 2017. This partnership enabled PJL to expand its programming to rural adolescents for the first time.
As part of this expansion, the Youth Educators at these rural schools offered a new after-school program: digital storytelling clubs. Boys and girls from different grades participated in the clubs and created entire videos on issues in their communities from beginning to end: they chose the topics, mapped the stories, crafted the interview questions, and filmed and narrated the videos.
Following the completion of these digital story clubs, we conducted two focus group discussions, each with five boys and two girls who were members of their school’s respective clubs. Our objective was to better understand the changes participants saw in themselves resulting from participation in the club, as well as any skills or knowledge they gained.
The following is what we learned from the discussions.
The club was significant in mitigating members’ shyness and fear of public speaking.
Youth in both groups felt that overcoming shyness and nervousness was the biggest personal change they experienced. Several mentioned at the beginning of the club they suffered from jittery hands when trying to interview community members, speak on tape, or even just hold the camera.
They also stressed that interacting with and relating to others with improved communication skills was a major benefit they experienced from the club. They became comfortable approaching and speaking with not only other youth, but also adults in the community.
I have always been a very shy person. For me personally, the knowledge that I gained from the digital story club is that I’m not THAT shy because I know how to interact and speak with people - that’s also what I learned to do in the club.
The thing that changed in me was that I wasn’t used to interacting with people before I entered the digital story club, but then we talked to community members and now I’m better at connecting with people.
At the beginning of the digital story club we were somewhat scared about the way we were supposed to do it, and nothing would come out. Then someone said don’t be scared, do it using what you already know. Then we sorted it out and we finally took the camera… even though the cameraman was still shaking!
We did an interview with the doctor because [the story] was about smoking… and during it I wasn’t even nervous.
All our hands were shaking, but later on, because of our effort, we were able to achieve out goal and finish what we were aiming to do.
The club gave members a platform to educate and give advice to others.
Most members recounted providing information to other youth on topics such as early marriage, the menstrual cycle, smoking, and even abortion. While this typically occurred in a school setting, they also reported giving advice at the end of the interview process. Some of the changes a few saw in themselves was that they were “brave” enough to give health advice.
I also tried to convince people about not using marijuana – that’s what you see a lot where I live – kids who are still small, like 12 years old [using marijuana].
Lots of girls at school don’t know how to count their menstrual cycle… When we started this, after school the kids have started approaching us to ask how you count, and we teach them.
Us filmmakers – we talked about smoking too. And we were good at convincing people about its dangers. The lesson we got from the club was to be good at convincing people in our families about this – the negative consequences of it, how it’s harmful to children.
Many came to realize the nuances, and difficulty, of behavior change.
Interestingly, along with their discussion of providing health information, members also talked at length about how they aimed “to convince” others to change or adopt certain health behaviors.
With this new consideration of behavior change, members also began exploring reasons and motivating factors that led people to adopt certain behaviors.
Several members further expressed that convincing people was hard, using the local colloquial expression “it doesn’t break through their heads” (translated literally).
As far as convincing people, that’s really what’s hard because you explain it, but it just doesn’t get through to people – the thing you are explaining about. That’s really hard.
The thing that really made us sad was that there was a kid at school who was our friend. She didn’t know how to count days of the menstrual cycle. And every day after class us two would sit together and she would ask about that, and I would try to explain it always, but two months after that she dropped out of school to get married and now she’s pregnant… That’s what’s really sad – the message doesn't always get through.
Members learned about cameras for the first time in the club. They also connected the topics of their films with what they learned from their health and leadership classes at school with Projet Jeune Leader.
Using a camera was a novel and exciting experience for club members. They recalled how they became adept at creating a story board with scenes, themes, and modes of presentation. Most of their reasons for wanting to continue the club into the future was to further develop their camera skills.
Sometimes we forgot to take off the camera lens before recording... the thing was running but there was no picture! [laughing]
I had never touched [a camera]. For me, that’s what I would like to continue… continue learning how to use a camera. Being a photographer is now my main goal.
The club appeared to solidify members’ health knowledge on topics such as early marriage, early pregnancy, smoking, and abortion. Several recounted specific activities or topics from their school classes with Projet Jeune Leader when talking about the theme of their films.
The thing I’ve held on to about adolescent health – in the club or in everyday life – is learning specifically about puberty in Projet Jeune Leader.
One thing I think is so important about adolescent health is teenage pregnancy – the negative effects of that – like disability of the baby because it’s not yet ready, hemorrhage, and even death, of the pregnant mom.
Members gained “soft skills”, including critical thinking.
In both groups members listed several skills they gained that were independent from technical health knowledge. The skills they mentioned included:
Not being mean when giving advice
Respecting other ideas/people
Conducting interviews (including asking permission)
Posture when public speaking (including where to place their hands)
Speaking loudly and clearly
Listening to others’ ideas before responding
The results from our two focus group discussions revealed that the youth in the club initially experienced intense shyness and nervousness from using a camera and interacting with interviewees. This is not surprising; many young Malagasy do not gain experience with public speaking in school nor in the community.
Additionally, youth are commonly soft-spoken, which may reflect the indirect nature of cultural and familial relationship norms, especially in the region in which PJL works. The digital story club gave youth a platform on which to practice their communication skills and “overcome” their nervousness regarding speaking in public.
Given that this project was in two rural sites (i.e. places with limited opportunities for technology education), we expected that youth would cite learning about cameras as one of the major skills they gained from the club. However, we were both surprised and excited that they more frequently mentioned soft skills or technical health knowledge.
Complementing the topics of their films, the youth appeared to retain a lot of information from their PJL classes, which may be partly due to the creative and interactive nature in which topics are covered (e.g. using a clear bottle to show how smoking affects the lungs). The numerous other skills mentioned (e.g. appropriate posture when public speaking, importance of comforting others, respecting other ideas/people) are certainly an accompaniment to PJL’s leadership classes, but it seems that the digital story club was the first time the youth could concretely use (and recognize that they were using) these skills in their communities.
It was also exciting that the club members felt comfortable giving health advice to their peers. Their attention to the intricacies of behavior change is important to note. We will use this to inform similar clubs in the future to more carefully teach youth about behavior change communication, as this obviously was of great interest to them. Not to mention, this could be an invaluable strategy for effective peer-to-peer diffusion of essential health information.
The handful of comments about how the club “opened” the mind of the members and allowed them to more successfully search and think through answers was unexpected, yet extraordinary. We hope to more carefully measure this in future project activities to: 1) more clearly understand what is meant by the phrase “opening the mind”, 2) better determine aspects of activities that lead to this perceived change, and 3) understand what role this attribute plays in different aspects of young people’s lives (e.g. learning, confidence, problem-solving).
Thank you to Population Action International for supporting the development of these rural adolescents in such an amazing way!