Helping Rwandan Teens Stay Safe

Peer-to-Peer communication about adolescent reproductive health and safety

A message from our team  

This month, we checked in with Immaculate Kyarisiima, Health Builders’ Director of Programs and Development, to see how the Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights programming has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why is supporting adolescent sexual and reproductive health so important?
In Rwanda, young people face enormous challenges. Teen pregnancy is on the rise, with 7% of girls ages 15-19 becoming pregnant. In some districts, that number is almost 12%. We are also seeing an increase in sexually transmitted infections among adolescents. Sex and sexuality is a taboo topic here, making it difficult for young people to gain access to information and services. With support from Grand Challenges Canada, we are working to break these types of barriers to allow adolescents, especially girls, to access sexual and reproductive health services and information so they can stay safe.

What’s unique about Health Builders’ approach?
Among other things, we are using youth peer educators to reach out to adolescents. Health Builders is one of only a few organizations doing this in Rwanda. Youth peer educators are in the same age range and are living in the same community so they understand the challenges their fellow adolescents face.

How has the program been affected by the pandemic?
Some of the activities that required travel to the communities and interaction with large gatherings were delayed due to COVID-19 prevention measures. For example we put on hold youth peer educators training, adolescent workshops and community outreach sessions. Also, the pandemic is causing harmful trickle-down effects for women and girls including an increase in teen pregnancies and gender-based violence, so these services are critically needed right now.

Why are you passionate about this project?
I feel it’s a very good project that is reaching out to the most vulnerable adolescents, especially young girls. Some of them have dropped out of school because they are pregnant or taking care of a child, and most of them will not return to school. Without interventions such as this project, these girls often end up with a second unwanted pregnancy.