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Cordaid NL
Health care Democratic Republic of Congo Rwanda

Religious leaders and health education: actually a great match

Educating youth about matters concerning reproductive health, and thereby protecting their lives, can be a daunting task in places where growing up is a taboo. In our Next Generation program, Cordaid health workers discovered a gap: the inclusion of religious leaders in training and advocacy. “Religious leaders can act as role models,” according to Dr. Georges Tiendrebeogo, who helped us in compiling a new facilitation guide.

“Religious leaders are community leaders, in the same way as politicians and activists. It doesn’t matter whether they are Muslims or Christians, we need to engage them,” says Dr Tiendrebeogo. Formerly a senior advisor on health and HIV/AIDS at the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam, he’s now an independent consultant alongside his other profession as a medical doctor. He feels that there is a lot of potential in this approach to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) for youth: “When some religious leaders are more open to discussion, their advice is likely to be very influential. Not just by preaching laws, but by listening, caring and helping people to reflect.”

Religious leaders’ advice is likely to be very influential. Not just by preaching laws, but by listening, caring and helping people to reflect.

Dr Georges Tiendrebeogo, health expert

Convincing facts

In sub-Saharan countries, young people who count for the majority of the population face many challenges linked to sexual and reproductive health.

This is why Cordaid has developed a new training guide together with experts like Dr. Tiendrebeogo and tested it with leaders from different religious communities of Burundi, the DRC and Rwanda.

It’s about helping people, especially youth, to become aware, access relevant prevention and support services, and protect themselves from harm.

Dr Georges Tiendrebeogo, health expert

From his experience in multiple African countries, Dr. Tiendrebeogo knows that these leaders know those or have relatives who died, who are suffering, who are affected. But they sometimes need help to engage people in a positive and constructive discussion. “There is a world to gain by involving them in health education. It’s about helping people, especially youth, to become aware, access relevant prevention and support services, and protect themselves from harm.”

RL_leader
The mufti of the Rwanda Muslim Association advocating for the adoption of comprehensive reproductive health education (Photo: Next Generation consortium/ Dusenge Ariane)

National policy

After its testing and validation in Rwanda last year, the facilitation guide was further adapted to the local context with the Rwanda Interfaith Council on Health (RICH) and is now at the Ministry of Health, pending its approval for incorporation into national health policy. Also in D.R. Congo, it is being finalized with the support of the government Programme National de Santé de la Reproduction (PNSR).

Geertje van Mensvoort, a Cordaid healthcare expert, is proud of the accomplishment. “From here on, we are going to use this facilitation guide in training youth in our new Jeune S3 program in Cameroon, the DRC and the Central African Republic.”

Launch at Women Deliver conference (16-19 May)

Cordaid will launch the Facilitation Guide for Religious Leaders at the Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. Meet us at the Holland Booth for a fun and informative quiz!

Or take a look at our other new publication: an illustrated storybook called ‘Like Sarah, Miriam and Joe’ for youth to learn about body changes, gender issues, sexuality and ways to provide peer support.

For access to the Facilitation Guide or questions about using it in your training, please contact Christina de Vries ([email protected]) or Geertje van Mensvoort ([email protected]).