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Malaysia population workshops 30 June 1995

THE EARTH TIMES/ Malaysia Report

JUNE 30 – JULY 14, 1995



By Ashali Varma

MALACCA, Malaysia-“I came to Thailand six years ago with the US Peace Corps to teach English to children in a village community called Serm. I taught 7th to 9th graders and I was given the leeway to teach other activities as well and I started teaching them income generating hobbies like making herbal shampoo and toothpaste. I also developed a booklet on AIDS because I realized their was a need to teach students about this and dispel some of the myths that only foreigners get it,” said Gregory Carl, one of the participants .at a workshop conducted by the International Council on Management of Population Programmes (ICOMP) and the Swedish International Development Agency, June 1 through June 4.

Attended by grass roots workers, and government officials from 10 Asian countries, the workshop on “Innovative Approaches in Youth Reproductive Health Programs” presented case studies of five successful programs from India, Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines that were aimed at educating youth.

Carl who is now with the AIDS program run by the Thai Red Cross Society spoke about their successful outreach program to youth in factories with the help of Unicef, the government and the private sector. The initiative which was started in 1991 aimed at training 50 workers in each factory to provide information and counseling to other workers on HIV and AIDS. In four years they have been able to reach 2000 factories in 19 provinces in Thailand and trained over 7000 workers. Unicef estimates that 600,000 people have been reached directly or indirectly.

Nandini Johri, from the Family planning Association of India, spoke of the “Young Inspirers” scheme started in Lucknow, India with students between the ages of 16 and 22. “We started by selecting 70 students for a workshop. They had to have leadership qualities and communication skills. At the workshop we encouraged active participation through role plays, quizzes, discussions. We included peer group counseling as one of the most important topics,” explained Johri.

The Young Inspirers club was formed by 25 participants who were given further training on counseling skills and reproductive health. This young group of volunteers thought of various

ways to reach out to other students through poster competitions, street plays, and events that focused around World AIDS Day and World Environment Day. In two years they in turn reached and educated 2,800 people on reproductive health, HIV and STDs in both rural and urban areas.

Teo Tang Ghee and Julie Tan of the Penang Family Planning Association described

the Youth Advisory Centre that has been operative since 1979. The urban drop-in center

has a family life education advisory service, library and activity room where the members

are taught income generating skills like working with computers, baking and music. With 150 members between the ages of 13-30 years they are also taught peer counseling for children in school and drop-outs.

From Sri Lanka, Dr. Sriani Basnayake the medical director of the Family Planning Association said, ” We had a national survey in 1985 which revealed that youth between the

ages of 16 and 24 knew very little about reproductive health. There were a lot of misconceptions and taboos. We realized there was an urgent need for information and we

kept lobbying with the Ministry of Education to let us do a pilot project in schools.” 

She went on to explain that they had to be low-keyed at first as they were conscious of the

fact that parents might object. They started three hour sessions in schools, in four districts,

with an outreach of 100,000 children between the ages of 13 and 19 years.

“During these sessions a trained teacher from an FPA spoke to children about all the problems adolescents face and showed a film on AIDS prevention and STDs. The response from both parents and teachers was overwhelming and there was a demand to expand our services to 10 districts,” said Basnayake, “educators also said they needed trained teachers to stay in school and counsel children on a regular basis. We have been able to train 300 teachers in six districts who counsel children, conduct seminars and motivate young people to be peer counselors.”

With a population of 60.5 million, the Philippines has 21 million youth between the ages of 15 and 24 year. The Family Planning Association of the Philippines initiated a “Development and Family Education for the Youth” (DAFLY) project committed to help youth understand their growth process and to prepare them for their role as parents of  tomorrow. They have  reached 2000 youth through their outreach program and even have a Hot Line to answer their questions.

According to the Global AIDS Policy Coalition 4.2 million people in Southeast Asia are infected with the HIV virus. Asia has 957 million people between the ages of 10 to 24 but there are few programs to teach adolescents about sexuality and reproductive health.

“The International Conference on Population and Development was the starting point for youth and adolescent programs on a global level,” said Shiv Khare, who as the former head of the World Assembly of Youth,  has done a lot of work in the field of adolescent health. “For the first time there were two chapters in the Program of Action which addressed reproductive health information for youth and adolescents. This has created a new emphasis,” he said.

Khare felt that youth centers with multi-purpose activities were more suited for an outreach program on reproductive health education.

Nguyen Ba Binh from Vietnam said that with more than 21 million young people and 80 percent in rural areas, there was an urgent need for health education in Vietnam.  Even though with the help of Unfpa they have prepared a training curriculum for schools, communications in rural areas is very poor.  “Our government has a lot on its hand and this is not a priority.  We need help from the press to highlight this issue,” he said.