The Beatrice Project – Training
Ntombi Nto which started out as the Beatrice Project in Zimbabwe, has always had training and education at its heart. This was not only for the girls as beneficiaries but for the whole community.
As the Beatrice Project in the UK we have been privileged not only to support training with funding, but also to help practically by going to Zimbabwe and taking part in training at the sites.
In 2016, before we had registered the Beatrice Project as a charity. Joy and some community leaders in the area were asking for help and advice on a curriculum. Joy was particularly concerned to have a systematic one-year plan so that in addition to monthly sanitary supplies the girls would learn about their changing bodies, emotions, sexual health, child protection issues and relationships. Already Joy had been leading a health talk at each monthly sanitary pad distribution visit. They had heard about a discussion toolkit called “Auntie Stella” and asked me to look at it.
The Auntie Stella discussion kit (www.tarsc.org/auntiestella) is a wonderful tool developed in Zimbabwe about a decade ago. Produced by TARSC (Training and Research Support Centre – www.tarsc.org) based in Harare, the tool kit was developed in close collaboration with young people. The kit consisted of 40 Key Questions put to the wise Auntie Stella, a virtual agony aunt (whom we have come to believe is really out there somewhere!), helping young people discuss all too familiar problems such as unwanted sexual advances, fears about sexual relationships and the more mundane worries about acne and period pains. The Auntie Stella kit available is in English and Ndebele and comes with a training manual full of ideas to enhance the use of the question and answer cards. The first training I helped with in 2016 was focussed on the adult leaders and peer educators, the key people who roll out the health and relationship training. It was impressive to see men and women, from teachers to grandfathers, and the girls keenly discussing the topics covered and taking part in training on techniques to facilitate open and non-judgemental group discussion. Auntie Stella does not have all the answers and certainly not the “only right answer”. The girls are encouraged to discuss Auntie Stella’s answers and contribute their own ideas as well as going away to research topics when appropriate.
The Auntie Stella guide and cards are downloadable from the TARSC website at https://www.tarsc.org/publications/index.php This includes the updated 2019 English version, as well as cards translated into Shona, Ndebele, Chichewa and Swahili.
The publication ‘5 Stories of Change’ can be downloaded here.
As the leaders and Peer educators are the key people supporting the girls in the project, annual education usually in the form of a weekend away is key to the project’s success. It is a mark of the quality and high aspirations of Joy and the leaders that, before we introduced Auntie Stella, the project had been receiving talks from trained Police officers about reporting sexual abuse and Childline concerning support on issues surrounding abuse and sexual exploitation. It has been a wonderful experience to help and attend two of these weekends in 2017 and 2018.
Not to be content with just using the Auntie Stella tool we as a team including Joy and the leaders and peer educators, have contributed to a further 4 Auntie Stella questions and answer cards. These cards included the dilemma of a fictional school girl Tina, facing the reality of an unplanned pregnancy and another dispelling some of the myths and facts surrounding HIV and AIDS.
Joy is now part of a National network in Zimbabwe including TARSC https://www.tarsc.org/, organisations involved in youth work with boys as well as girls and a small company, Chiedza, making reusable sanitary protection in Zimbabwe.
As from the beginning the leaders all acknowledged the importance of men and boys also receiving sex education, Ntombi Nto have already facilitated some education sessions with boys, delivered alongside a local Zimbabwean youth leader.
Another fruitful area of training and community education has been the introduction of menstrual cups. Joy, the project leaders and beneficiaries have benefited from experience and training delivered by the Butterfly company, based in Harare, who supply menstrual cups in Zimbabwe. http://www.thebutterflycup.co.zw/.
This has led to parents and guardians consenting to their girls using this new and sustainable method of sanitary protection. During this era of restrictions on meeting and school attendance Ntombi Nto have been able to trial small cell groups of about ten girls to deliver monthly training including the introduction of menstrual cups for those who want them and whose parents consent. Future training will continue to encourage the community-based support groups to become more sustainable.
Recently we have been able to pass on a grant for the purchase of a field vehicle, generously donated by The Bright Future Trust. This means that increasing visits to the sites to help roll out training is a real possibility. We hope that before long we will be able to visit Zimbabwe and help them with this.
The future looks exciting for our partnership with Ntombi Nto as many other schools and communities are asking them to share their expertise and their model of support for girls. We are committed to working together with Ntombi Nto to help train and equip the girls and the communities in which they live.
Watch This Space!