Supporting and Empowering Vulnerable Young Adolescents in Rural Madagascar
Projet Jeune Leader’s young adult Educators are not only teachers, but also mentors and counselors to their young adolescent students. Especially in rural areas, our Educators are often the only support service available to students – not to mention among the only adults that adolescents trust for advice.
While PJL Educators help their students with many different aspects of their lives – their studies, their friendships, their health – one issue has always been difficult to address: emotional abuse.
Emotional abuse is normalized and hidden in many homes, schools, and communities across Madagascar.
For example, nearly 8 in 10 children 10-14 years old in Madagascar report that psychological aggression was used towards them as a form of discipline at home over the past month (MICS, 2018). Yet, adolescents – especially those living in rural areas – do not have reliable access to child protection services like listening centers and shelters, social workers, or legal support. And although Madagascar has a violence reporting hotline, only 11% of the rural population of Madagascar has electricity (World Bank, 2020). Our Educators, who are embedded full-time in rural public middle schools, often serve as “first responders” to adolescent survivors of violence – including emotional abuse.
That’s why this past year, we partnered with Omena to improve our Educators’ capacity and resiliency to respond to cases of emotional abuse in their work.
Omena's mission is to break the cycle of emotional abuse in Madagascar. As part of our partnership, Omena conducted an in-depth training for our Educators on recognizing emotional abuse and offering youth appropriate socio-emotional support. Through an ongoing community of practice throughout the school year (covered further in this story!), we helped our Educators process their experiences in a safe, supportive setting.
The project’s impact has been already been deep and immediate.
Understanding Socio-Emotional Abuse
As our Educators learned about the definitions and signs of emotional abuse through Omena’s training, they began sharing examples of the counseling cases they had heard on emotional abuse.
“I have had many counseling cases on emotional violence, but I never knew before that this was actually abuse or violence,” shared one of Projet Jeune Leader’s Educators — one of many similar reflections shared.
Many of the cases that students brought to our Educators involved abuse from parents (as we assumed, given the published, national quantitative data we had seen). However, many other cases involved abuse from teachers or other authority figures, as well as a substantial number of cases of peer-to-peer emotional abuse.
These issues remain hidden in Madagascar and are seen as taboo, even for our Educators. The training was able to raise these sensitive issues in a safe space. The training also helped the Educators reflect on the important role they play in prevention and response. “It’s really important for us to understand and teach this issue so that we can help students who have already experienced it, and also so we can prevent emotional abuse in the future,” shared one of our Educators.
Equipping Projet Jeune Leader’s Educators with the Tools to Support Vulnerable Adolescents
Through the training and follow-on community of practice, our Educators not only gained awareness — but also the tools to respond. “The training really helped me at work because I see many cases of emotional abuse amongst my students. Now, I have enough tools to handle these situations and I have the skills to do my job better,” one of the Educators reflected.
As one Educator wrote in a post-activity survey, “The community of practice has helped me a lot in my work because now I understand more about emotional abuse. That has helped me explain it to other people and improve my approach to support students who have experienced it.”
Translating Socio-Emotional Support Approaches into Programmatic Improvements for Youth in Rural Madagascar
As we wrapped up this pilot project, we turned our learnings into new tools and products for our Educators to use in their day-to-day work. Projet Jeune Leader’s technical team collaborated with our Educators to bring their grounded lived experience to the table alongside the new knowledge and skills they had gained from Omena.
We developed a section on responding to emotional abuse for a new counseling handbook we are writing for our Educators, which aims to equip them with more structured guidance. We also developed two age-appropriate lesson modules (one on “Understanding, responding, and preventing emotional or psychological violence” and one on “Setting boundaries”) to be integrated into Projet Jeune Leader’s comprehensive sexuality education curriculum for students in the last year of middle school.
We field tested these new modules with adolescents. This allowed us to test our assumptions and make improvements to the content and language of our lesson plans. It also gave us early indications of the relevance and impact of the modules.
“I didn’t know that what I was doing was violence,” shared one male 8th grade student.
Indeed, 57 out of 59 of the students who participated in field testing of the new lessons had never heard of the term emotional abuse. “The lesson is still new for me because it is not often discussed in society. But I have seen a lot of people saying repeatedly hurtful words, insults from friends, and I didn’t know that these are forms of emotional or psychological violence,” shared a female 9th grade student.
One of her classmates shared, “Now I know how to distinguish physical violence and psychological violence. Before I only knew about physical violence.”
The Committed Work of Breaking the Cycle of Emotional Abuse in Madagascar
We know that these efforts are just the beginning. In the coming months, we will be expanding our pre-service training for our Educators and revisiting how we can better support our Educators throughout the year, based on what we learned through the community of practice. We will also develop a comprehensive counseling guide and a new sexuality education and life skills curriculum for the 9th grade that focuses heavily on social norms, gender equality, and violence prevention. Our goal is not only to improve our support and response interventions, but also to tackle harmful practices and norms.
“The Projet Jeune Leader Educators’ commitment to becoming models for their students has enabled their own healing process while increasing their impact on the community,” shared Francesca Raoelison, the Founder and Executive Director of our partner Omena. “They are giving us hope of seeing our vision of breaking the cycle of emotional abuse in Madagascar come true.”