The Santeen Project is a yearly school programme in Bangladesh about “health and hygiene for adolescents.” This programme was started by Sumita Chowdhury and Ainun Nahar and has been supported by Stichting Batashi since 2007. The activities carried out over the years are mainly updated in Dutch. For English speakers, however, the Final Report Santeen Project published in 2012 still provides an idea of the work the Project does.
The programme was started keeping in mind that the level of knowledge on personal health and hygiene, especially the more poor people of the Bangladeshi society, is very poor. Diseases such as diarrhoea are common and there is a high level of unawareness. Relatively simple activities such as washing hands carefully with soap after defecating may prevent such diseases. Furthermore, taboos and myths surround health related issues such as HIV/AIDS and reproductive health. Poor (menstrual) health restricts the well being and movement of adolescents. Therefore, learning about health and hygiene is essential for adolescents.
Sumita Chowdhury and Ainun Nahar are not only the founders of the initiative, they are also the trainers who provide the sessions. Both trainers have many years of experience in development work and are very passionate about their work in the programme. Through classroom sessions adolescents are provided with information ranging from basic hygiene to more sensitive issues such as drugs and reproductive health.
In addition to running the yearly school programme, the two trainers started a counseling pilot in 2010.
The programme was started at four secondary level schools in 2008. These schools had signed approval documents; agreeing to participation in the programme after extensive discussions were held with the school committees. Teachers at the schools were briefed on the subjects and were asked to selected the adolescents who would take part in the programme.
In 2010 the programme was carried out for the third year. At this time four schools and two madrassas (school who also provide the Islamic education next to the regular schooling programme) in or around Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.
Students and teachers
The programme is an extra-curricular activity, taking place immediately after school time. The schools’ teachers selected a group of maximum 30 students to partake in the programme. Most of these students are adolescent girls and the programme focused on reaching orphans especially since they are often forgotten in information providing activities. Most students are around 12 years old. However, with the inclusion of a vocational training center, the ages range from 15-45.
Teachers of the schools do not participate in the lessons. They are, however, involved in the programme through regular meetings with the trainers. During these meetings the programme’s subjects as well as the progress of the students are discussed and evaluated.
The lessons are interactive and participation of the students is required. To keep the students motivated, the teaching material is diverse and the activities vary. For example, during the hand-washing-lesson, the students are not explained how and why to wash hands, they also practice the activity during the lesson.
Providing information is the main goal of the programme, but is supported by activities such as drawing, writing a play, story telling and discussions. Flip cards, for example, are used to discuss good and bad practices during menstruation. In another session an apron which shows the reproductive organs is used to increase students’ awareness of the reproductive biological functions of the female body.
The students are eager to learn about reproductive health which is obvious by the amount of questions that come up during class.
Although the trainers are aware it takes time to change behaviour and increase knowledge, some changes are already visible during the year. For example, a snack is brought for the students since the programme takes place after the regular classes are finished. In the beginning of the year the children just eat the snack. During the year the adolescents start to discuss whether they will have to wash their hands before eating the snack and where to place the food.
Expansion of the regular programme
The trainers noticed there was a need for an extra session with the students besides the regular yearly programme. The main reasons for this were:
- The lessons only are not sufficient in providing information;
- More sensitive issues can be discussed outside the school setting;
- The sessions are a form of recreation for the students.
These counseling sessions take place twice a month with a group of around 20 adolescents. There is no official lesson, manual or program and the trainers do not take notes. The sessions take place without any interference from the home mothers or the school committee. Keywords to describe the sessions are: chatting, free style, easy going and informal.
The trainers create a friendly atmosphere and encourage the sharing of information and experiences. Sometimes the trainer introduce a subject but most of the time the input and questions come from the adolescents. The subjects are diverse; ranging from issues around marriage registration, to gender differences and issues around dowry.
The main objective of these sessions is information providing and information sharing. The trainers may also give advice. However, they do not wish to give one solution to a problem, but several paths. The adolescents also have their own solutions to problems which are also discussed. The idea is that the sessions provide the adolescents with an opportunity to reflect on their own situation and to choose which path to take.
Sumita Chowdhury: “It took some time to win the trust of the adolescents, to make sure they know they are taken seriously. Over time a trust relationship is build and the adolescents feel free to discuss anything with us.” So far, the sessions are considered successful by both the trainers and the adolescents.
It must be noted that the trainers are not official counsellors, nor do they have the intention to become official counsellors, since professional counselling has a negative image. There is the conception if someone needs to go to a counsellor, the person is mentally ill. Therefore, adolescents do not want to go to an official counsellor