Peer education brings a sense of achievement to a displaced family of three, and a social service to its community.
Zeina, 40, and Khouloud, 38, had fallen on hard times. The sisters are from Eastern Ghouta in Syria, and following a siege, fled to Lebanon, first Khouloud in 2014 then Zeina, who lost her eldest son in the war, the following year. Barely able to afford high rent prices in Beirut, the sisters tried to find work wherever they could, even resorting to taking their boys out of school so they could contribute financially.
Then, in 2017, things changed. While she set out for work, Zeina was introduced to the reproductive health and family planning sessions provided by UNFPA and its partner Makassed in Beirut. Curious about the sessions and intent on helping other women like her, she spoke to Khouloud and together, they decided that they would be trained as peer educators.
“There were challenges at first because not all women are open to the idea of taking these sessions – they didn’t want to take part because they didn’t know about reproductive health,” Zeina explains.
For many women, stigma around reproductive health issues and a lack of education means most are left in the dark.
“Many of them would have questions too but they couldn’t go to the hospital to ask,” Khouloud adds.
But with time, more and more women, as well as married couples, would sit for the sessions, which are also provided at a medical mobile unit in hard-to-reach areas in Beirut. Soon enough, the sisters saw a change in the women at the sessions: they became more aware of their reproductive rights and about access to contraception, and the dangers of early marriage. They became more communicative about their bodies and the importance of maternal health.
“We want to give as many sessions as possible so we can reach the highest number of women with the right information and sound decisions,” Khouloud says.
Her son, Mohammad, is 17 and is luckily still able to go to school. He too has been trained and has now become a peer-to-peer educator to young men his age.
“The sessions have made me more informed and they’re raising awareness among men my age and older,” he says. “Most are too shy to ask adults the questions they have about reproductive health, but because I’m of the same age, they listen to me.”
Young men often lack knowledge on family planning and use of contraceptives. The peer-to-peer programme also helps them question current stereotypes about masculinity and risk-taking sexual behavior, as well as promote their understanding of girls’ and women’s rights.
Through peer educators, UNFPA and Makassed are providing sessions to men, women and adolescents in their communities on reproductive health including safe motherhood and family planning. In 2018, through the generous contribution of the Canadian government, they reached out to over 18,700 men, women and youth with information on sexual and reproductive health. 3,000 consultations were provided at the mobile medical unit and primary healthcare centers between January and June 2019.
“This program is extremely important and we want to keep taking part in it,” Khouloud says. “We are trying to give sessions to areas that are very neglected where they need this the most. We feel empowered to keep doing this for as long as we can.”