Reba has been working as a Sub-Assistant Community Medical Officer (SACMO) at the Family Welfare Center (FWC) in the Rangpur district for 23 years.
Reba has been involved with Plan’s Advancing Adolescent Health (A2H) project since it was launched in her community.
As part of the orientation session organized by the project for health service providers, she explained how the project is adding value to adolescent sexual and reproductive health (ASRH)-related knowledge and services.
“Upon completion of the orientation, I realized the importance of adolescent sexual and reproductive health. I could identify the existing rigidness and uncomfortableness of the health workers about this issue because of limited knowledge. I always believe that investing dedicated and quality time to adolescents to discuss about their health rights and services will bring positive change in their behavior. And [the] A2H project has transformed this belief into a reality. I can really see the positive reflection on the face[s] of the adolescents when I conduct the school sessions on ASRH. It’s very motivating for me to provide better service[s] for them.”
Popular with adolescent girls who refer to her by her nickname, “Shukla Di,” she conducts monthly, government-initiated, health education sessions.
Without any prior sensitization to the topics that were initially being discussed, student participation in the sessions were awkward and uncomfortable.
Sharing her experience, Reba says, “Initially there was limited scope to discuss the ASRH issues during the session. In most cases, I talked only about basic hygienic practices for girls and boys. But things started to change when A2H started to work with the adolescents. Now, a larger portion of the students attending the school session already have the basic orientation about ASRH that they received attending the life skill session of the project. I can easily engage the students now in ASRH discussion[s] and answer their concerns, which works as psychosocial counseling as well. I always share my contact information with students so that they can contact me for health advice.
Initially, they were very shy and hesitant about calling or coming to clinic. But since A2H has started, the awareness raising activities [and] the number of adolescent[s] seeking health services becomes significantly higher. Boys feel more comfortable to get advice over phone rather than sharing in person.”
Reba believes that Plan’s A2H project is aligned with the government’s initiative to serve adolescents. Prior to the program’s launch, a limited number of unmarried adolescents were seeking advice or services in health facilities for general sexual reproductive health and rights issues. Those who sought advice were too shy to share their issues with their service providers.
Reba acknowledges the project’s contribution to promoting ASRH-related knowledge and creating the demand among adolescents for better services.
Recalling one specific example, she says, “After attending a school session, I got a call from an adolescent boy who attended it. He identified his health condition based on symptoms with [an] STD from learning of that session. He shared his condition with me and asked for secondary reference of a male doctor without any hesitation. I was impressed with his unhesitant nature. This awareness and ease of adolescents for their own well-being makes me feel more optimistic. And all these are the success of the project initiatives.”
While it is rare for unmarried adolescent couples to avoid judgment while receiving health care from their providers, Reba maintains her professionalism, keeping her patients’ information confidential. She also provides them with psychosocial counseling. Thanks to Plan’s A2H training, Reba has learned more effective ways to deal with challenging cases.
“Everyone dreams to move forward in life, to be someone in life. If we can nurture both [the] physical and mental health of our 10–19 year-old population, the positive impact will stay as long as next few generations,” she says.
Reba has a personal connection with the project, too. A child bride at the age of 13, she struggled with many of the same issues her patients struggle with today.
Like many of her patients, she entered adulthood surrounded by the stigmas and taboos around SRHR-related issues. With the help of her father and husband, she wanted to pursue her dreams, but she became pregnant at the age of 17.
After giving birth to her son, she was asked not to continue her education. Knowing that she was passionate about higher education, her friends submitted her application for a Medical Assistant Training (MAT) course without her knowledge. This incident changed her life. After she was accepted, she never looked back. She completed the MAT course and her dream became a reality. Reba was now a health professional.
A2H addresses the problems that Reba experienced as an adolescent and mother. She knows that it takes a village for an adolescent bride to achieve her dreams and the A2H project is building a support network for adolescents within their communities. Reba wants to be a part of that support system.
“My father, my husband, my friends, and my teachers were my support system for my success in my toughest journey. Through my profession, along with relevant and effective direction from A2H, I also want to be a part of the support system that helps these young people to conquer the world.”
Today, Reba is the proud mother of three children and all of them are medical doctors. Reba’s story and her success as a health service professional undoubtedly serve as an inspiration to her peers and adolescent girls who have been the victims of early marriage and pregnancy.