Betty is from Busia, a bustling town that marks Uganda’s farthest eastern border with Kenya. For Betty, access to family planning is more than personal; she became a Peer Educator with Marie Stopes International (MSI) to help other women in her community.
“I have been a peer educator for 5 years now,” she explains. “Family planning is very important. It has changed my life.” Betty, who is married to a teacher at the local primary school, has five kids ranging in ages from 3 to 17. She started using an injectable contraceptive method about ten years ago, primarily to space the births of her children. She now uses the implant, which she received from an MS Uganda (MSU) Outreach Team that visits her community every two months or so.
Peer Educators are satisfied MSI clients, who either volunteer or are employed by MSI to mobilize their communities. Betty decided to be a Peer Educator after she received her implant, and friends of hers that were Peer Educators explained the importance of having community members involved in family planning education. “Since Marie Stopes started visiting our community, many women have come to visit them. They teach us about the methods [they offer], and let you decide what is right for you,” she says. MSI services are free.
In Uganda, peer educators help educate women of all ages about MSI’s life-saving services. Esther, a 30 year-old mom of three, realized she needed to take advantage of family planning services after speaking with Betty. “I wanted family planning because I had problems; with no help, it would be difficult to support my three children,” says Esther. “Before, I knew about MSU services, but I feared them. But when the peer educator talked to me, I came to visit the clinic.” Esther got an implant last month.
For many of the women whom Betty meets, she sees that they worry about the children they already have- they want them to be able to grow and learn- and the economic strain of unplanned pregnancies. For others, she has seen how women will put their lives in danger out of desperation to end an unplanned pregnancy. “We’ve seen women who try to abort their pregnancies, and most of them die. There was a younger girl, 16 years old, who died from swallowing Harbo (a type of detergent) to try to end her pregnancy. It is common. These younger girls don’t know what to do, but this wouldn’t happen if they were educated about family planning,” says Betty.
“Before, I knew about MSU services, but I feared them. But when the peer educator talked to me, I came to visit the clinic.”
Betty, a Peer Educator in Uganda
A focus on youth
Most of MSI’s Peer Educator programs specifically target youth, a group with high unmet need for family planning, with their Teen or Youth Connector programs. While knowledge is scant among youth, there is an appetite to learn: surveys conducted across six of our country programs demonstrated that one in four “know nothing about available family planning,” yet 9 out of 10 are “interested in learning more." Read more about MSI's findings on delivering sexual and reproductive health to young people.
In Nepal, the MS Nepal Putalisadak Center in Kathmandu runs a youth volunteer group called Rockets and Space to educate young people on family planning options. There are approximately 7 volunteers throughout the Kathmandu Valley who educate peers through community programs, universities, high schools, as well as booths at fairs and in the mall. The volunteers expressed that young people can’t talk freely about sexual and reproductive health and many myths still exist, so in their outreach they talk about MSI youth centers, clinical and counseling services, and provide condoms.
In Kenya, Marie Stopes has created Teen Meet-ups, where girls can have conversations about contraception and choice in a safe, teen-owned space. Here, they can meet other teens, ask questions and learn about where they can access services. Findings from our work with Ideo.org showed that getting a teen to open up is the hardest and most important step, and that success stories and testimonials are a powerful tool against myths that spread by word of mouth. In the last two years alone, MS Kenya has recruited and trained over 80 Youth Connectors.
In Zambia, Teen Connectors help young clients navigate the system. Most adults find it challenging to access family planning services and know what to expect, and adolescent girls have even greater challenges given their limited decision-making power over many aspects of their sexual lives. MS Zambia’s Teen Connectors have been very successful in making the links between MSZ service availability and the girls who want the services in urban communities.
In every country and in every community, women and girls have different needs and challenges to access the family planning method of their choice. That’s why Peer Educators take different shapes in each of our country affiliates. However, every country’s mission remains the same: break down barriers to accessing contraception by connecting women and girls as friends first.
It’s our Peer Educators who help us go above and beyond, ensuring that all women and girls can stay healthy, control their future, and have children by choice, not chance.