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  • Writer's pictureLaura Leeson

Top Ten of 2017

2017 was certainly a year to remember. For the people of Madagascar, the year was full of remarkable challenges: widespread drought drove up prices of staple goods, re-institution of harmful international policies threatened Malagasy women’s reproductive health and rights, and the yearly plague season was more damaging than ever.

Despite this backdrop of trials and tribulations, Projet Jeune Leader continued to deliver and expand our programming in the Matsiatra Ambony region.

Throughout the year we found new champions of our work – from the youth of Digital Story Clubs, who found the clubs transformative and desired their continuation– to the middle school director, who applauded our Youth Educators’ work as the reason there was a record-high number of passing students – to the National Ministry of Education, which commended our model in the public arena on the national stage.

In face of all the challenges the country has faced, the need for investment in the upcoming generation is even more salient. We recognize that the time for open discourse about adolescent reproductive health and rights is now. Reflecting on our work in 2017 has solidified our belief that PJL is ready to step into the forefront as the primary advocate of young adolescent programming, sexual health education, and youth leadership development in Madagascar.

Take a look at our work from the past year. Here are our top ten memories from 2017!

All we needed was some boomin’ speakers and a bit of nail polish to get people excited about menstruation on International Menstrual Health and Hygiene Day!

The May 2017 events in Fianarantsoa and Ambalavao were a smash success – Projet Jeune Leader’s youth educators set up stands in different neighborhoods where both women and men of all ages came to paint their nails (a big attraction and an effective icebreaker) and chat about periods and menstrual health.

People are afraid to talk about periods. They know what they are, but they don’t know the details about what you should do. Too often menstrual health stays a taboo subject or one that is restricted to a medical sphere. Thanks to this event, people were able to talk about menstrual health with our educators in a natural way.” (Aina, Girls' Programming Coordinator)

Thanks to the tireless work of our Leadership Consultant Annika Freudenberger and Rural Youth Educators, Projet Jeune Leader was able to produce a new 2017 edition of VINA magazines! These magazines cover a range of health and leadership topics and are loved by students in our partner schools. With support from the Stichting Groot Haspels Foundation, the magazines are now in all of our partner schools for students to enjoy!

In partnership with Population Action International’s YOUAccess Fund, Youth Educators at rural schools offered a new after-school program: digital storytelling clubs. After producing short films on childhood marriage, smoking, and abortion in their communities, students reported that they experienced a number of positive - and amazing - changes in themselves.

After receiving a record-high number of 327 applications, PJL selected and trained our 5th cohort of Youth Educators in August and September! The dynamism of these young people continues to amaze us, as they have already made themselves at home in their assigned schools for the 2017-2018 school year.

In 2017, PJL distributed nearly 1,000 re-usable sanitary kits to rural adolescent girls in our program areas with assistance from the U.S. Embassy Ambassador's Special Self-Help Program. Follow-up surveys and focus groups showed that this pilot project was a great success: the girls overwhelmingly used the reusable pads; were less embarrassed to wash and dry them in public; and felt less embarrassed about menstruation more generally. Girls just wanna have pads!

For her work creating and leading Projet Jeune Leader, in 2017 PJL's Executive Director, Maia, was named one of the 120 Under 40 winners, led by the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute with support from Bayer, which recognizes 40 of the most accomplished young people working in family planning and sexual and reproductive health and rights worldwide.

When asked what she hopes will result from the award, Maia says she wants to see someone take a chance with this small non-profit, to help Projet Jeune Leader reach all young adolescents in Madagascar. "We have developed a strategic plan to significantly scale our reach in the next few years. With the attention from this amazing award, we will be in a much better place to advocate for our model and increase our fundraising to take us as far as we can go." Here's to that and more in 2018!

In partnership with ECPAT France à Madagascar, which fights against gender-based violence and the sexual exploitation of children, PJL developed and piloted a special boys’ program on gender equity and violence prevention. Excitingly, pre- and post-program surveys suggested that the intervention positively changed many boys’ perspectives on gender norms. This program is now being offered in many of our schools as after-school programming!

With support from the Principality of Monaco and technical assistance from the Health Communication Capacity Collaborative (HC3), 2017 brought the official roll-out of our parents' program! PJL offers workshops for parents to improve their communication skills and confidence to address sexual and reproductive health issues with their children starting at a young age. After training 176 parents in 2017 - with great feedback from parents - we are continuing to expand this activity in 2018.

With support from AmplifyChange, in 2017 PJL embarked on a nationwide campaign to train 300 teachers from 10 different regions on integrating menstrual health and hygiene into the primary school curriculum. This work will continue into 2018 to make Madagascar's primary schools more supportive environments for youth as they traverse puberty, and more specifically, for adolescent girls whose development, education, and health is hindered when support is lacking for menstrual health and hygiene.

In the 2016-2017 school year, support from Population Action International, Positive Action for Girls and Women, the Segal Family Foundation, and the Stichting Groot Haspels Foundation enabled PJL to expand its programming to rural adolescents for the first time.

The immediate impact of this programming was outstanding. Pre- and post-tests showed that young adolescents in all rural partner schools significantly improved their knowledge and attitudes on sexual-reproductive health. A record-high number of counseling cases also suggested that young adolescents felt increased confidence and capacity to seek help on sexual and reproductive health issues.

This expansion additionally allowed PJL to establish youth-friendly referral systems at rural health clinics near partnering schools. Following an extensive needs assessment of young adolescents’ attitudes towards local health workers, a consultant medical liaison developed and implemented a training specific to clinic-based providers. This participatory and well-received training improved providers’ skills and confidence in counseling young adolescents on sexual- reproductive health issues.

Projet Jeune Leader’s mission is now reshaped with an invigorated effort for working in rural schools. The need is obvious given the lack of resources and opportunities for young people in rural Madagascar. In fact, the baseline data on knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of rural adolescents collected with this expansion is the first of its kind in the country. The incredible insight gained from this dataset can be used for numerous advocacy projects down the line, as well as lend legitimacy to PJL as an expert in young adolescent programming in Madagascar!

We are incredibly optimistic for what 2018 will bring. Thank you all for your continued support and investment in young Malagasy adolescents!


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