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The Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiative (APPI) and UNFPA India collaborated from April 2018 to March 2021 to advance value-added inclusive development for improving the health, nutrition and well-being of adolescents, especially tribal adolescents, studying in residential schools in the state of Odisha, in eastern India.

This partnership has achieved concrete results which included the decline in the prevalence of anaemia from 79% in 2019 to 50% in 2020 among adolescents, expansion of the peer educator approach across the state including middle schools, and creation of a resource pool of trained teachers, matrons and ANMs (Auxiliary Nurse Midwife) for life skills education (LSE) sessions.

Here are some success stories of the initiative.

Monalisha’s Mission - Menstruation Information

Monalisha, a high school student studying in the Keonjhar District of Odisha, trained as a peer educator under the UNFPA-APPI project. After the training, she realized that many girls in her school were ill-informed about menstruation and had inadequate knowledge about the onset of puberty.  Some of them also had preconceived misconceptions as a result of lack of proper education on the subject, one often considered a taboo by many families and educators alike.

Monalisha, a conscientious and responsible student, believed that it was imperative to address this information gap by creating awareness about menstruation and related issues.

She heard about a Class 5 student Usharani Nayak’s dilemma and confusion about being completely unaware when experiencing her first-ever menstrual cycle.

Monalisha’s peer educator training helped her to address the young girl’s bewilderment and support her in dealing with a perplexing situation.

She explained to Usharani about the changes that happen in a girl’s body during adolescence and about the onset and process of menstruation, menstrual hygiene management and correct nutrition.

“I remember when I reached menarche, I was terrified…I had so many questions in my mind and I did not know who to ask or share my concerns with. Eventually one of our Didis (senior students considered ‘older sisters’) told me about menstruation and that it happens to every girl…but I still had many doubts. In my village, my mother and all my friends would use and re-use the same cloth during their period which would lead to infection… poor menstrual hygiene was also a big problem! When I saw Usharani, I knew it was my duty to reach out to her and help her,” said Monalisha.

“The Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) booklet provided to me during my training as a peer educator helped me immensely to explain menstruation and to clarify Usharani’s doubts. With the support of Minakshi Sahoo, the LSE nodal teacher, I was even able to show an information-based video about the menstrual cycle which was a part of the multimedia package of the project. I helped Usharani get sanitary napkins and also demonstrated how to use and dispose them correctly”, she added.

The timely counseling, guidance and support provided to Usharani allayed her fears and she understood that the physiological process of menstruation was natural and not something to be anxious or afraid of.

Monalisha continues to work to support young girls in her school and local community. Her constant counselling guides the young girls of her community through a confusing time of their lives and helps them understand the importance of hygiene to stay healthy.      

Malati – Combating Covid Courageously

Peer educator Malati Sensitising Her Community and Demonstrating Correct Handwashing Techniques

Malati, a student of Class 10  from Kandhamal District, Odisha trained as a peer educator in 2019. She received a ‘Peer Educator Kit’ containing resource materials for organizing sessions and creating awareness.

The year 2020 marked the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis with the world coming to a halt and countries announcing pandemic lockdowns.

Malati’s school was closed due to the nationwide India lockdown and she had to return to her village.  Malati studied, understood and internalized the leaflets distributed by the health officials and school administration just before her school was shut down.

This information and knowledge proved extremely useful when she was back home.

“On returning to my village, I soon realized that people here were unaware of the severity of COVID-19 and related safety protocols…people had minimal information on how the virus spreads, its symptoms and important precautions necessary to protect oneself from getting infected.  There were also rumors propagated by misinformation going around the village leading to a sense of panic and anxiety, “said Malati.

As a trained peer educator, Malati knew what she had to do!

She courageously took upon herself the difficult task of creating awareness about COVID-19 in her traditional village community. As a first step she reached out to her friends and coordinated with the village ANM and ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) and collected leaflets on COVID-19 provided by the Odisha state government.  Then they conducted a door-to-door campaign, sensitizing people about the infectious disease and its symptoms. They also educated them about COVID-appropriate behaviors such as hand hygiene, use of masks and social distancing, with demonstrations.

“This is a challenging time for all of us but we can overcome this if we follow COVID-19 appropriate behaviour as per government guidelines and protect ourselves from misinformation and fake news,” said Malati.

“I did face difficulties…people would ignore me but I never let myself feel demotivated. I was in constant touch with my teacher and matron who would encourage me to work harder. Through my relentless efforts and communication skills learnt during my training, people in my village started listening to me and acknowledging my efforts”, she added.

Malati also used this opportunity to spread awareness about the harmful practice of child marriage - whose incidence escalated amid pandemic-related economic hardship - and dissuade people from marrying off their underage daughters.  She even formed a group to keep a vigil on COVID-19 and incidents of child marriage in the village in close collaboration with the AWW, ASHA and adolescent girls. 

An Iron Will to End Anaemia Among Adolescents

Reshma - A Full Recovery From Anaemia

During adolescence, increased physical activity and rapid growth spurts lead to a heightened risk of developing nutritional anaemia. This is especially prevalent in developing nations due to low socio-economic status and lack of access to proper nutrition and healthcare services.

During the first round of anaemia screening undertaken in 2019 under the UNFPA and APPI-supported project – “Health, Nutrition and Well-being of Adolescent Girls studying in Tribal Residential Schools”, Reshma Kanhar, a student of Class 8 studying in Kandhamal district was diagnosed with severe anemia. She was referred to the nearest health facility (as per government guidelines) where the doctor advised her to take the IFA (Iron Folic Acid) tablet course for 90 days.

“The life skills teacher from the UNFPA-APPI programme was very helpful… She and the ANM didi (‘older sister’) regularly monitored my IFA consumption. During the summer vacation, the LSE teacher provided me with additional IFA tablets and also advised me to increase my intake of green leafy vegetables, eggs and millets”, said a grateful Reshma.

“When I returned to school after my vacation, the ANM regularly checked my eyes, palms and nails, and counselled me. I took the tablets for 90 days and continued to follow the instructions given by her,” she added.

In 2020, when Reshma’s re-screening was done, her HB (haemoglobin) level was normal…she was no longer anaemic and had fully recovered!

UNFPA works in more than 150 countries, including India, to achieve zero maternal deaths, zero unmet need for family planning and zero gender-based violence and harmful practices to ensure RIGHTS AND CHOICES FOR ALL.