JGI: Helping Girls Stay in School
Meet Rachel Bitarabeho
As the peer education officer for the Jane Goodall Institute-Uganda (JGI-UG), Rachel Bitarabeho is helping young women stay in school by overseeing the Institute’s peer-to-peer education program.
In 2006, Rachel began working with JGI-UG as an administrative assistant. Over time, with her passion for and knowledge of reproductive health issues, including experience counseling young adults about HIV/AIDs, she was promoted to the position of peer education officer. Most recently, she received her postgraduate diploma in project planning and management from Uganda Management Institute in Kampala, Uganda.
Growing up in western Uganda, Rachel experienced firsthand the connections between women’s health and classroom attendance. Roughly 60 percent of her female classmates dropped out of school before graduating from middle school to high school. In most schools in Uganda, female school attendance plummets when girls reach puberty, in large part due to a lack of access to reproductive health information and materials. Many girls leave school at a very young age to marry or contribute to the household by assisting with tasks such as farming and water collection.
“What I love about working with JGI is being able to make an impact on girls’ lives,” says Rachel. “JGI first looks at a problem and then finds a solution. I like the bright smile on girls’ faces when you tell them they can achieve their goals if they look beyond the current situation in their lives and focus on education.”
JGI: Helping Girls Stay in School
Educating Girls to Share Knowledge
JGI’s peer-to-peer education program equips young women with information on topics including HIV/AIDS, other sexually transmitted diseases and reproductive health. JGI also provides training in life-planning skills designed to help girls successfully navigate the challenges of maturing into adulthood. The girls then return to their schools and communities and share what they've learned with their peers who are often more comfortable receiving information from people of the same age group rather than adults. The peer-to-peer education program is based in schools that currently participate in Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots, JGI’s global environmental and humanitarian youth program.
With support from the Nike Foundation, JGI-Canada and the American people, JGI has trained 408 peer educators in Uganda who counsel more than 6,000 young women each day regarding women’s health issues.
“Before the introduction of JGI’s peer-to-peer education program, in most schools an average of 20 girls completed grade seven,” says Rachel. With the introduction of the program, now an average of 35 girls attend grade seven in each school. In many of the schools where the program has been implemented, the number of girls is now actually greater than the number of boys.”
Involving Parents & Empowering Girls
A large portion of the program’s success is due to its work to educate parents about the benefits of girls’ education. In an area of the world where many girls drop out of school to work or marry, parental support for young women’s education is critical. Thanks to the peer program, young women have also learned that education is their right and are more confident and motivated to assert their right to go to school.
Providing Critical Materials
The project also provides participating schools with materials to help teachers guide students and inform them about women’s health issues. These materials include pencils, pens and exercise books for girls whose families cannot afford scholastic materials, as well as hygiene supplies so girls won't feel the need to stay at home during their period.