Girls in Tanzania do not typically have easy access to health information through schools or other channels. GLAMI, Girls’ Livelihood and Mentorship Initiative, fills the gap, hosting Health Sessions three times each year for Kisa Scholars that cover topics put forward by the girls themselves.
In this conversation, Arusha-based Mentor Nuru Jaji joins us to talk about how these sessions come together to give girls access to health professionals who can answer questions about their physical and mental health.
My name is Nuru Jaji and I am a Kisa Alumna. I graduated in 2018 from a girls’ secondary school in Moshi, Kilimanjaro. I am so proud to be a Mentor at GLAMI!
You joined GLAMI earlier this year, how has being a Mentor been so far?
It’s a great journey and experience! I have never mentored before and I’m really enjoying it, it’s like seeing myself at a younger age when I’m teaching the Scholars. It’s a wonderful experience.
Recently, AfricAid donors very generously helped us reach our goal to fund an entire Health Symposium for GLAMI. Could you give us an overview of what happens during these Health Sessions and why they’re so important for girls?
Health Sessions are these beautiful sessions we plan for the girls so they can learn more about their health and why health is so important. You can’t do anything if you do not know how the body operates. Through the impact of the sessions, Scholars really have the chance to change society. The education they receive about their health systems and how they operate is often passed down to the communities the Scholars live in as well.
Can you tell us about how Health Sessions have changed since you were a Kisa Scholar?
Way back in 2016 and 2017, a large group of students from different areas of Tanzania came together to meet in one place. We had topics that were pre-selected, so we learned about the same or very similar things each year. Now, we conduct them in each individual school. We have several sessions about the menstrual cycle, breast cancer, and cervical cancer. We also bring health professionals to the schools to teach the material, we don’t teach it ourselves. When Scholars have questions, they can ask doctors directly. Because we are Mentors, our professional work differs a lot from that of doctors, so it is really beneficial for questions to be addressed by people trained in medical science.
We also now prepare Scholars prior to the sessions and ask them questions. What topics do they want to hear about? What are they going through physically or mentally? What questions do they have about health they cannot ask in school? What and who do they want to listen to? So the girls suggest the topics and we write them down, then we sit together as a group of Mentors and determine the topics that are requested most.
What are the most popular topics that you see girls asking questions about?
The most popular topic the girls are really concerned about is mental health. We discuss mental health in all the schools because we believe it’s okay not to be okay. People can get depressed, committ suicide, and it’s not talked about in schools. Girls go through a lot and sometimes they don’t know how to express themselves. In Tanzania, it’s often believed that you only need mental care if you’re crazy or insane, so most people don’t receive education about mental health. Scholars wouldn’t get a chance to learn about this topic if they weren’t enrolled in GLAMI’s programs. If I didn’t participate as a Kisa Scholar, I myself wouldn’t have had the chance to learn about my mental health. I too believed that the only people who need such care were people who are ill in the head. But I realized it’s so much more than that, you need to express your emotions, handle your thoughts well, and understand when and how to react to certain situations. I learned a lot.
What kind of feedback have you received from Scholars?
Students often ask for more frequent Health Sessions! They were really grateful and said that more girls outside of the program should be able to have access to that knowledge, so we let them invite friends from their communities and they were so impacted by this. They’ve asked if it can be like that each time, as it really helps so many more girls. Through all these girls, the things they learn will be shared with their families, future coworkers, and the world. There’s a real meaning to this all and they’re so touched. Another thing Scholars are grateful for is the chance to connect with the professionals who come to speak, because they share their contact information. So for example if a girl was not able to speak about what is really going on in her life in front of a lot of people, or if she needed more help, they have contacts to communicate with professionally.
As a new Mentor, is there a topic you have in mind that you would like to expand on during future Health Sessions?
I would like to speak more about cervical cancer and breast cancer. They’re topics that are rarely spoken about and most girls and young women do not know how to examine themselves or recognize symptoms. Another topic is how to take care of yourself during your menstrual cycle. Here, girls really suffer when it comes to their menstrual health. It’s really painful, and they don’t know how to deal with that when they’re in environments such as school. So I would like to see more emphasis on that as well.
How do community members such as the medical providers, teachers, and administrators react to GLAMI hosting these Health Sessions?
At one school I went to for Health Sessions, there was a doctor who was invited to speak, and he was really moved and intrigued by what we do. He insisted that we continue with the program, and that he was always open to help in the future. The professionals who attend are always willing to help, as they know how important it is for people to know about these issues. The school teachers are also really moved and always express what a great job we have done with the program.
Watch the full conversation below:
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