Extending sexuality education to adolescents with disabilities
"The PJL Educators are young people who have the ability to connect with the kids; the students aren't shy or scared to talk and discuss these issues with them.""- Sister Michelle, Director of Pedagogy at EPHATA Center
At Projet Jeune Leader, we continually work towards a vision that all Malagasy adolescents have access to comprehensive sexuality education. Such work is illustrated by our partnership at EPHATA Center. This private primary school was founded in 2002 by the Congregation of Mary Immaculate Nuns to serve youth who are blind or have a range of visual and cognitive disabilities.
EPHATA Center receives students from across Madagascar. Their students complete a standard education to pass the national primary school exam and after, they are divided into two groups: students who attend middle school within the city and those who receive a vocational education on site. At the EPHATA center, they supplement their education with activities such as agriculture, music, and cooking classes. Now, PJL's sexual health education and leadership development courses are a part of their weekly schedule.
The PJL staff who facilitate at EPHATA, Francis and Tahiry, are exceptionally qualified to work with these young people. Both were prior Educators, or “Jeune Leaders”, in PJL's public partner schools for two consecutive school years. Their experience shaped their excellent teaching skills and understanding of working with adolescents, as well as informed their view that all youth deserve access to and can benefit from positive sexual health and leadership education.
When reflecting on her students at EPHATA, Tahiry explained that, "I am very touched by their motivation for learning. As Educators, we have to be more aware of the language that we use, being careful not to hurt their feelings; for example not using the verb ‘to see’ when checking for comprehension. The students show us a lot of affection, even more so than students in the public middle schools, because they just go off the sound of your voice - they can’t judge you by what you look like."
Since the beginning of the school year, Francis and Tahiry have taught lessons on leadership, self-confidence, and puberty – three out of 27 topics in PJL's comprehensive sexuality curriculum to be covered throughout the entire school year.
When observing a class, it quickly becomes obvious that Francis and Tahiry know how to effectively deliver PJL's curriculum in an adapted way. For the lesson on puberty, Francis dynamically acts out a story, pretending he is a teenager who just had his first noctural emission. Concerned about his health, because he has never heard about this before, Francis decides to talk to his Jeune Leader, Tahiry, after their next class. As Tahiry counsels him about what happened, the conversation goes from a discussion about not being scared because he has reached puberty, to what girls experience during puberty, to the hormones that cause puberty, and all the other changes that will occur going forward. As in most classrooms around the world, students were blushing, giggling and at times bursting with laughter throughout the story.
After the skit, Francis and Tahiry review the important content from the story by asking comprehension questions, and filling in with supplemental information regarding puberty when necessary. The students are engaged and curious - looking around the room one notes that many of them were beginning to experience these changes themselves. At the end of class, Francis and Tahiry remind the students that they are always available for one-on-one counseling if they have further questions or concerns.
The nuns who live and work with these students value having Projet Jeune Leader at their center. Sister Michelle, the Pedagogy Director at the Center, confirms that, "the students enjoy these classes, the communication flows because they [the students] are at ease and more open about these topics with Francis and Tahiry, more so than with us. The trust their Jeunes Leaders."
For more information about EPHATA, visit their website.