Food For Thought

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By: AB Khan

And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said

Speak to us of Children.

And he said:

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls’ dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday

By Khalil Gibran

The temperature in Upper Hunza Valley, in the town named Shisket was minus 3 degrees when I arrived to visit Aga Khan Rural Support Program (AKRSP) pilot project called   Adolescences Friendly Centers (AFC). The facility from the outlook was located underneath majestic barren mountains with two adjourning rooms and a small playground. After a scenic journey of one hour and half hours from Hunza, driving on Karakorum Highway and peeking into the breathtaking view of Attabad Lake, this facility was worth a visit.

Enter this 12×14 size room, a pleasant surprise in- store. The room was full of children aged in the bracket of 9-years to 19 years. Sitting on a carpeted floor, the attendants were focused with full devotion to the lecture, their teacher was delivering. Assisting the teacher were two other associates, one managing the digital screen and Laptop and other navigating in the  class room. In one quick glance at the room, two senior elderly persons were also spotted sitting quietly and listening to the teacher. They happened to be the parents of the students.

    Adolescence is characterized as a pivotal stage in an individual’s life, marked by the attainment of maturity. This period is rife with dynamic changes, encompassing novel emotions, physical and emotional transformations, excitement, inquiries, and challenging decisions, often accompanied by a desire to experiment. During this phase, young individuals require access to information about their bodily changes and the necessary skills to equip them for a fulfilling future.

As they progress through adolescence, young people embark on varying forms of relationships with their peers, family members, and adults. Effective communication and other relational competencies play a crucial role in ensuring that these relationships are gratifying and marked by mutual respect. Nevertheless, individuals must also acquire the ability to navigate these newfound emotions to make responsible decisions about their health, reproduction, and parenthood.

In today’s world, we are living in what is can be called contemporary societies and the reproductive health of young people is a cause of concern

 Zeroing in on Gilgit Baltistan as a case study, adolescents represent the forthcoming generation of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral (GBC) poised to assume pivotal roles in the future societal and economic stages as per the statistics. The Sihat Mand Khaandaan project also known as (SMK) ensures not only to impart awareness concerning Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights/Family Planning (SRHR/FP) but also strives to nurture and foster fundamental life skills development of these young lads.

 The age at which mothers bear their first child significantly impacts infant mortality rates. Research conducted within hospitals and clinics underscores the fact that adolescents constitute a significant portion, up to 10%, of maternal fatalities. These vulnerabilities stem from a lack of information and awareness about their health, along with susceptibility to various communicable infections.

 AKRSP has establish adolescent-friendly spaces (AFSs) at the Union Council or Local Support Organizations (LSOs) levels within each district, leveraging existing infrastructure. These spaces are serving as platforms for young individuals to acquire vital life skills and actively participate in civic engagements.

Moreover, these AFSs are outfitted with internet connectivity, affording opportunities for virtual and technological learning, tailored to the specific needs and context of the community. A community-based organization works as a collaborative partner responsible for providing the physical space and identifying adolescent girls and boys, irrespective of their school attendance, for enrollment in the AFSs.

AKRSP provides comprehensive training to peer-to-peer educators, covering an array of vital topics. These include Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights/Family Planning,  effective parenthood practices, gender equality, ethical considerations, the promotion of positive cultural aspects, child rights, and life skills about adolescent development.

Recognizing that young married couples are frequently excluded from the planning and execution of such initiatives, despite their substantial need for life-skills education, SMK actively engage and involve married youth in this endeavor. This proactive approach ensures that the insights and needs of married youth are considered and integrated into the program.

Gender equality on all SMK projects serves as the central pillar of their mission. To uphold and promote gender equality, every intervention within the project is strategically oriented towards achieving a minimum of 50% female participation. The overarching goal of the project is to diminish gender-related and social barriers faced by women and girls through behavioral change interventions. Among these interventions, the establishment of Adolescent Friendly Spaces stands as a prominent initiative within the broader    behavioral change program.

In order to keep the motivation level high, Adolescent Friendly Spaces remain open as per the attendants’ time of convenience. Many adolescents are either in school or are engaged in other activities most of the day. They may therefore find it difficult to miss school sessions or opportunities for employment to visit the center unless it is an absolute emergency. Facilities offering services to adolescents should therefore arrange special sessions during late afternoons, after school/work, or during weekends to make it possible for adolescents to attend.

 

AFC also offers free of cost services to the financially challenged communities and in addition to this, a free medical camp is arranged periodically at each AFS for Head-to-Toe assessment.

It is also true that young people are attracted to a facility that provides comfort, such as a place where there are adequate seating arrangements., friendly environment and like-minded people around in the vicinity and AFC is very much adherent to this fact.

Mentors and Peer Educators selected to work in a Youth youth-friendly space must be well acknowledged and sensitive to sexual and reproductive health and other concerns of the youth. Those expected to educate, or counsel adolescents must have appropriate skills. They must be able to listen and take note of body language to understand the unexpressed feelings and experiences of the adolescents. The Mentors and Peer Educators should have good interpersonal communication skills and be able to interact freely with other young people, put them at ease, and encourage them to share their needs and concerns freely and AFC takes full responsibility of this challenge.