Girls need a safe place to express fears and emotions.
Preparing young girls in Nicaragua for a healthy future
Young girls in Nicaragua have a lot to contend with. Growing up in one of the poorest countries in Central America, they face an obstacle course of serious health risks: AIDS, early pregnancy, unsafe abortion, and violence at home and on the streets. To protect themselves, girls need access to information and strong support from parents, teachers, and—perhaps most importantly—each other.
PATH’s Entre Amigas (“Between Girlfriends”) project smoothed the way for girls to reach their full potential. A soap opera spoke directly to the problems they face every day. Monthly gatherings in local community centers or churches gave them a safe place for conversation about intensely private issues. Programs brought mothers and teachers together with each other and with girls to share experiences and ideas.
Focusing on girls aged 10 to 14 years old, the project helped overcome the obstacles that stand between them and adulthood. PATH worked with three local groups to coordinate activities.
The right questions, the right solutions
Through the Entre Amigos Project, which grew from Entre Amigas, Jonathan Osejo Morraz has transformed his vision of the world. Read his story.
In 2002 the Entre Amigas team began by exploring how adolescent girls in Ciudad Sandino—a municipality in Managua where overcrowding, poverty, drug use, and violence are the norm—responded to reproductive health issues. Our survey of 590 girls suggested that mother-daughter relationships and friendships between girls were areas of vulnerability, instead of sources of support.
As a result, project activities centered around creating a safe environment in which girls could express their fears and emotions. In keeping with PATH’s overall approach to our work, the project team incorporated the ideas and feedback of community members, including youth, to design and implement activities, which included:
- Training peer educators in the use of puppet shows and other interactive activities to promote messages about safe sexual practices and the risks of HIV and AIDS, early pregnancy, and violence.
- Organizing all-girl soccer teams to help foster trust between the girls and to increase their confidence and self-esteem. Local government provides support for the coaches.
- Choreographing discussions between mothers and teachers to help them brainstorm ways to talk to their daughters and students about reproductive health issues. The topics of these conversations mirrored the topics girls discussed in sessions held just for them.
- Collaborating with the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health to arrange for health care providers to visit schools on a regular basis and talk with students about available health resources.
In addition, one of our partners in the project, the Nicaraguan organization Puntos de Encuentro, introduced a new character—a 13-year-old girl and her family and friends—into the popular television soap opera Sexto Sentido. By highlighting her interactions with parents, peers, and teachers, Sexto Sentido opens a window on the decisions that confront girls who are navigating adolescence and provides a focus for conversation between girls who watch the show and their families. The series explores girls’ negotiation skills, myths associated with adolescent body changes and virginity, and relationships. It also focuses on parents who build confidence and respect and guide the girls in managing reproductive health risks.
The character’s role was constructed using the findings gathered by the Entre Amigas team, and girls in the community who were involved in the project helped write the scripts.
The clearest vision
An evaluation of the project activities suggested that girls and mothers had increased knowledge related to reproductive health, and many reported changes in their attitudes and behaviors. A study of the cost of the Entre Amigas project found that the package of activities was a feasible and affordable approach for promoting the sexual and reproductive health of girls. To encourage others to replicate these activities, the Entre Amigas team produced and distributed a documentary of the project.
But the young girls who participated provided the clearest vision. They were leaders in the peer education program; contributors to a nationally televised soap opera; and full participants in the project’s design, implementation, and assessment. Empowering these young women to take charge of their own development was Entre Amigas’ greatest achievement.
Photos, from top: Mara Martinez, Miguel Alvarez.