The story of Douglas Adongo
By Innocent Kafembe-Communication Officer UNICEF Ghana
Douglas Adongo is an ambassador (Peer Educator) for Youth Harvest Foundation in Sirigu community. At 18 he has just finished Senior High School and he has volunteered his time to fight child marriage, forced marriages and early marriages within his community. This takes him to all the villages and schools in his community attending to cases of child marriages and other adolescent reproductive health challenges that his peers might be facing. In his spare time Douglas also serves as a preacher in his church and he uses this platform to also reach out to young people in the church.
Trained peer educators
Douglas Adongo is one of more than 30 volunteer peer educators who were trained by the organisation in the Upper East region, charged with a mandate to support young people in their communities’ particularly young girls to evade the scourge of early marriage. Douglas is one of the 10 boys that were co-opted into the role after showing immense interest and dedication to support young women in Sirigu village.
Youth Harvest is a UNICEF supported community based organisation that is based in Bolgatanga, Upper East region in Ghana. The organisation trains volunteer peer educators on adolescent sexual and reproductive health, counselling skills and community mobilisation. The programme only trained females peer educators at first but due to the interest and zeal shown by boys like Douglas they have now added boys into their group of peer educators. The project aims to stop child marriages, empower the girl child and equip young people with knowledge on adolescent sexual and reproductive health.
Bringing information into the communities
Key to addressing the issue of child marriages has been the role that volunteers play in bringing information into the communities – through community based ambassadors (peer educators) like Douglas. Douglas and his fellow peer educators deliver a series of sensitisation sessions in the heart of communities where families lack access to child protection information and knowledge on how to manage cases of early marriages which may be forced and child pregnancies. Douglas supports young women in his community to be responsible youths who are aware of reproductive health issues and their rights during house to house visits, school visits and community sensitisation meetings.
The local District Girls Education Officer with the Ministry of Education Rita Abamah, spoke positively about the impact peer educators like Douglas are having in the communities and schools in her district. Cases where a school child is pregnant, molested or forced into marriage are now coming to her office through the support of these peer educators. She is responsible for referring these cases to the social welfare office if they involve rape or forced marriages on young girls below 18 and liaising with the schools to allow girls to continue their studies after giving birth.
Meeting the challenges
“I visit most of the households in my community to support young people, to provide guidance on cases of pregnancies and forced marriage. Recently the Chief’s daughter fell pregnant whilst in school and the family had resolved to send her to the house of the man responsible to force him to marry. I had to meet with the family several times until they accepted to keep her at home and in school” Douglas says. This case has been his most challenging since he joined as a peer educator a year ago.
His role as a peer educator has also come with its challenges. It has made him unpopular amongst his male peers some of whom he has confronted when they made attempts to date young school girls in his village. Some have threatened to beat him up but he says “I know the community supports the work I am doing from the Chief to my own mother and siblings. If anyone challenges me they will have also challenged the whole community”