Youth Health Ambassadors Program
The goal of this project is to place young people at the forefront of change and development by taking a sex-positive, rights-based approach to the prevention of unwanted pregnancies and the transmission of HIV/AIDS. The Youth Health Ambassadors Health Program annually trains a group of 120 youth health ambassadors across four centers in Central and Eastern Uganda to carry out peer and near-peer sexual health education in safe, inclusive spaces within their communities. The program duration is six months.
Youth Health Ambassadors Program uses sporting activities including cycling, soccer, field and track events and board games, music, dance and drama as an entry point for peer education on reproductive health, HIV/AIDS and gender issues. Each Ambassador after completing the six-week training on these critical topics is supposed to mobilize a minimum 10 fellow youth to form a team that will participate in the Youth Health Gala which happens at the end of six months.
In a safe community space like the church, mosque, school, community centers, community soccer fields, they form a team(s) depending on the sports activities they want to participate as scheduled on the Gala’s calendar. At the end of practice and exercise, the ambassadors convene discussion groups after practice and facilitate sessions on any of reproductive health, gender equality, HIV/AIDS, assertiveness and decision-making, followed by questions and answers. In a space of six months, the programme aims to challenge traditional concepts of gender-appropriate behavior by incorporating sport and recreation activities, along with literacy, life-skills training, and reproductive health awareness.
During the six months, our field coordinators meet with the teams on a regular basis to support the leadership of the ambassadors and offer more information and tools that may be needed. The ambassadors also bring up unanswered questions that may come out of their discussions with the youth and our coordinators help answer them on spot.
Our trainers and coaches who double as field coordinators and directly work with the ambassadors are equipped with comprehensive sexuality education training, gender and women empowerment skills, and life skills on top of sports and youth art. So at each practice, they integrate several sports learning activities as detailed on each of the key topics below:
Girls’ participation in sport carries with it an enormous potential for positive impact on attitudes towards gender equality among the younger generation. Although boys usually express stereotypical attitudes to the girl soccer players (for example, that girls do not learn quickly, are fragile and give up easily), seeing girls achieve success in soccer, defeating them in volleyball, among other games starts to reshape their notions about girls’ roles and capabilities
The training and the actual gala provides an opportunity to reach out to men and boys on issues related to stereotypical attitudes and gender-based discrimination and violence. The broad participation of men and boys in sport, as both athletes and spectators, provides a powerful forum for educating and informing men and boys on a variety of issues, including violence against women and girls, and for breaking down entrenched attitudes and stereotypical behaviors.
Some of the physical activities carried out include: What Man Can do, A Woman Can do, My Opinion Matters and Gender Roles & Power Relations scenarios, for example, girls will captain the team administration while boys are tasked to wash all uniforms and jerseys.
Leadership and social skills are very important aspects that sports activities teach. In the past cohorts, we have seen youth taking on leadership responsibilities, communicating effectively, managing time better and making very good decisions. We promote leadership skills through activities that range from team administration tasks, fundraising, and marketing tasks, communication tasks, among others. During the practice week, we bring role models to speak to the youth. These share their life stories and messages of inspiration that motivate youth to even work harder. To strengthen this, we are working on a partnership with the Uganda Olympic Committee to send Uganda’s top athletes as role models to speak to the youth.
HIV/AIDS, Sexual Reproductive Health & Rights
In 2015, it was estimated by the Uganda AIDS Commision that 567 Young people aged between 15-24 years get infected with HIV every week and of these 363 are Girls! Ways in which this program contributes to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS include, for example, sports leagues, matches, music, dance and drama competitions that lead up to the Youth Health Gala provide a forum for public information campaigns on prevention and protection, and a safe and supportive environment among youth teams and organizations to encourage open discussion about HIV/AIDS and sexual behaviour. Working with several partners at the Gala, we offer HIV services like voluntary counseling, testing and referral, family planning, STI screening and treatment, condom distribution and reproductive health seminars.
Currently, there are so many children and adolescents in Uganda that have too much leisure time, and some don’t even attend school. Many come from broken families, join gangs or participate in illegal activities because of lack of direction. Children and teens that seem abandoned by the formal education systems can be sheltered from the many backdrops that abound in their communities by the implementation of Youth Health Ambassadors Program.
Our long-term vision is to see Ugandan youth who are very actively engaged in sport and physical activities know their bodies and self-worth. We want to see girls who are confident and with a passion to do whatever they want and a healthier and responsible generation of young people that believes in teamwork, collaboration, working hard and supporting each other.
We believe that sport heightens self-esteem and self-confidence and promotes responsible behavior. By taking part in sport, children and young people learn to manage victory as well as defeat. They acquire life skills that help them deal with challenging situations and improve their long-term prospects. The Youth Health Ambassadors Program will not only create an awareness of the vulnerability experienced by young people but also have an empowerment effect. Peer support and mentoring is such a powerful tool as youth easily learn from each other and develop skills and knowledge necessary to have more control of their lives and to function as responsible members of their communities.
Our short-term vision is to finalize the Youth Health Ambassadors Program Manual for Youth-Serving Organizations so that we can scale out this intervention working directly with grassroots partners to see more and more youth involved in this program and definitely participate in the annual Youth Health Gala.
In our vision 2025, we want to expand to 25 districts located in the five regions of the country and be able to do a National Youth Health Gala to reach over 10,000 youth. We also want to discover talents and see some of our finest athletes compete in the Olympics.
Youth Health Ambassadors trained on topics concerning adolescent reproductive and mental health since 2017
Prepared and facilitated by trained Youth Health Ambassadors
Condoms that have been distributed during outreaches in Kampala and Mukono, 2017 – 18
The number of young people who have been tested during the health outreaches conducted by Youth Health Ambassadors.