Over the past years, Somali youth and young adults of WellShare’s The Young Achievers, have repeatedly expressed interest in learning about reproductive health. WellShare’s Spacing Pregnancies Program for East African and Karen Communities (SPEAK) recently had the opportunity to fulfill this request and completed the pilot of an exciting new project: Sexual and Reproductive Health Classes for Somali youth.
In order to start the process and to identify topics that were of specific interest to the youth, SPEAK staff held group listening sessions and talked one-on-one with long-time youth participants. After reviewing the data, WellShare staff chose to focus on four primary topics:
1) Healthy Relationships
2) Knowing Yourself (Sexuality) and Self-Esteem
3) Contraception & Consent
4) Preventing and Testing for HIV & STDs.
The lessons were adapted from existing curricula Flash-High School, Live It! and Unequal Partners, which help adolescent youth learn about sexual health and healthy relationships. In addition to the classes, WellShare’s Somali youth staff team developed a handout on Sexual Health Resources for Youth and made sure that all lessons and materials were culturally sensitive. For example, gender norms and marriage expectations were taken into consideration, and classes started out focusing on broad topics of interest and relevant life-skills such as healthy relationships, self-esteem, consent and disease. As in all group meetings, the program staff spoke in both Somali and English, removing some of the language barriers for participants.
The WellShare staff were pleased with the results of the pilot, both quantitatively and qualitatively. While aiming to reach 30 Somali youth, 53 youth and young adults participated in the classes. “Overall, the lessons went very well and students were very engaged and interested in the discussions. They had a lot of contributions,” said Zahra, one of the program staff members teaching the classes.
At the end of the program, the vast majority of the youth reported they felt more confident in managing their reproductive health. They had a better understanding of how to prevent pregnancy with birth control. They also had increased confidence in identifying a healthy relationship and consent in intimate relationships.
Similarly to the Somali youth pilot, SPEAK staff also created a Karen language sexually transmitted infections (STI) resource. This is the first resource of its kind in the local Karen community. Materials and classes like these are created in response to requests by community members, health care providers and professionals. As a trusted community partner, we’re proud to be able to provide this information and contribute to the improved knowledge of reproductive health.
Knowledge gaps exist due to racial and ethnic health disparities, placing many in the refugee and immigrant communities at high risk for unintended pregnancy and disease. We know that projects like these help close the knowledge gap, and we look forward to continuing this work in the years to come.
The Spacing Pregnancies Program for East African and Karen Communities (SPEAK) is funded by the Minnesota Department of Health’s Family Planning Special Projects Program (FPSP.)