A year ago, I remembering sitting at Peer Educator training and falling in love with the energy of our PEs. Last month, we conducted our annual refresher training, funded by the wonderful TJX International and a couple of charitable Aussies, Meaghan & Jonathan. A year later, I have to admit, those PEs still make my heart skip a beat.
In what must have been a moment of madness, my counterpart Tanele and I decided to run the three trainings (one per region) back-to-back, over one and half weeks. That might have been fine if Tanele hadn’t ended up in hospital with the same debilitating flu that I was also fighting with all my might (FYI, she gave it to me, not the other way around!). Still, we got there in the end and, as always, my PEs astounded me with their enthusiasm and openness.
This year we took a slightly different tack and partnered with a range of organisations to facilitate the training, as well as extending the scope of Peer Education beyond HIV prevention to include cancer, immunisation and diabetes. While the coordination of this proved a headache at times, the end result was well and truly worth it. Family Life Association of Swaziland, Baylor Clinic of Paediatric Medicine, Swaziland Breast and Cervical Cancer Network, Population Services International, and the MoH Non-Communicable Diseases presenters were all fantastic and insightful. What’s more, I get the sense that this is just the start of some fruitful partnerships.
The second group of people that must receive recognition are “my” staff. Tanele, despite her sickness, stepped up and took control of the room when she could, put the PEs in order and even made and received phone calls from her hospital bed. Shelley, our Director, and Chris, our Canadian volunteer, were stars in helping with behind the scenes shopping, printing and everything else that the flu-ridden Health Officers struggled to do.
Meanwhile, Bongiwe, our esteemed Kutimela Project Officer, was given five minutes’ notice to take Tanele’s place during her absence. She was also given two minutes’ notice to fill in for the missing-in-action facilitator on gender-based violence. I cannot give enough praise for the way Bongiwe, who has no background in health or GBV, engaged those PEs by sharing a story of abuse that she had heard. She then encouraged the women to share their experiences and discuss solutions among themselves. The end result was a room full of survivors in tears, grateful for the chance to be heard. Pretty powerful stuff.
Finally, full credit must go to our lone male Peer Educator, a young man from Mdzimba mountains who gallantly endured two days of graphic discussions about male circumcision and vaginal discharge with a room full of women, one of whom was his grandmother. That boy’s got guts.
Of course, while the training is an incredibly important part of any Peer Educator program, the real benefit comes from what happens after. While it’s too early to see what impact this particular training has had, I am ecstatic to share the results from 2012.
In the eight months from May (when we started recording) until December, we had 25 PEs who returned the self-assessment forms. These PEs conducted 159 educational activities in places as diverse as the bus, the gardening group, and the dip tank. These activities reached 4,735 rural people, almost half of which were women, 25% men, and the rest youth. They were also asked to share Most Significant Change stories to get an idea of the outcome of these activities. While I have pages of stories to choose from, I have selected just two to leave you with. This, readers, is Program HOPE – Health Obtained through Peer Education.
“As a PE of the community, I have taught the people more on pregnancy, preventing AIDS, and other diseases. As I was teaching them, I saw their eagerness of wanting to know more. They were asking questions and providing input. I was learning from them as they were learning from me, which is good, and it shows that they are now eager to learn more. It is good for community to work together and keeps me motivated”.
“I spoke to a male community member, and he said circumcision is not good because then the penis won’t stand or grow. Then I told him more on circumcision and how it is done, that it’s safe. He then thought otherwise and was circumcised”.