“Down, Down the Road”: Empowering Adolescent Girls with Health Knowledge in Gombe State, Nigeria

{Photo Credit: Adaeze Umolu/MSH}Photo Credit: Adaeze Umolu/MSH

A town in Nigeria is using creative writing to teach girls about reproductive health. And it's working.

In January 2015, Management Sciences for Health (MSH) and partners launched the "Amdo Health Club" at Government Day Secondary School in Tal, Biliri Local Government Area (LGA), in Gombe State, Nigeria. "Amdo" translates to "Love."

Thirty female students ages 13-19 were selected to take part in the Health Club, which met two times per week for four months. At the meetings the girls discussed reproductive health, hygiene, maternal and child health, life skills and career advancements. The students then worked in groups to create a stage play, illustrative posters, a poem, and a short story using their own language and local context to communicate the health practices they had been discussing.

Gombe State, in northeastern Nigeria, has the highest maternal mortality ratio in the country: there are 1002 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, and only 27 percent of women give birth in a health facility, according to the country's 2013 Demographic and Health Survey. GirlHub Nigeria reports that more than half of all girls in northern Nigeria are married by age 16.

Traditional methods of creating demand for maternal health services in Nigeria have focused on male involvement to influence the community. MSH took a different approach with this project, empowering adolescent girls to be change agents in their community. The participants became health ambassadors, sharing their knowledge with their friends and families.

"When Grace returns from school, she brings her siblings together to teach them how to care for themselves physically and plan their future so they can finish school successfully," said one mother after her daughter participated in the program.

The participants' work was published in a book, titled Baby Shimile.

The Amdo Health Club presented their work in May at a meeting of representatives from the school, the Ministry of Education, the Maternal and Child Health Department of Billiri LGA, and the girls' parents and teachers, among others.

"When I read the story that the girls together wrote at the end of the project, it's like we unlocked some creative button in their mind and the juices just started flowing," said Dr. Zipporah Kpamor, MSH Country Representative in Nigeria. "It's unbelievable that a bunch of teenagers could come together to do that."

This video, "Down, Down the Road," shares excerpts from the poem written by Amdo Health Club participants and read by Rifkatu, one of the poem's authors.

International Youth Day is celebrated annually on August 12. This year, MSH joins world leaders in focusing attention on youth civic engagement, which is essential to achieving sustainable health development globally. 

The Improving Maternal Health through Creative Processes by Adolescent Girls Project was supported by an MSH Innovation Challenge (INCH) Fund and designed to last six months.