El Salvador: Bridges to Employment project
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In El Salvador, 7 out of 10 sexually active adolescents become pregnant each year, and nearly half of these pregnancies are unplanned. Despite the risks of early pregnancy, adolescents generally do not enroll in prenatal care early enough to ensure good care and to identify risk.
The Integrated Health and Education Services for Adolescents and Youth in El Salvador project is focused on improving adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health by providing access to comprehensive sexuality education and critical health services. As part of Plan International’s commitment to sustainability and lasting impact, the project is partnering with schools, local health centers, and education and health officials in the areas of Cabañas, Chalatenango and La Libertad.
In order to improve adolescents’ access to information about their sexual and reproductive health, the project has trained more than 220 teachers from 60 schools on comprehensive sexuality education for seventh, eighth and ninth grade students. In addition to basic lessons on anatomy and safe sex, the teachers also learn how to help their students develop skills like emotional intelligence and self-esteem. Lessons on pregnancy are paired with conversations about gender, sexuality and human rights. With supplemental teaching materials and supportive monitoring and follow-up, the project staff works with education officials to help teachers to improve their teaching approaches and maximize the lessons. Finally, the project is establishing 60 Schools of Sexual and Reproductive Rights, where both students and out-of-school youth can learn about their rights, including autonomy and access to health services, in a club-like atmosphere.
The project’s other objectives focus on improving adolescents’ access to sexual and reproductive health services. Working closely with the local Ministry of Health office, Plan has supported upgrades of youth-friendly spaces in 12 community family health units and has trained approximately 330 health care workers on providing youth-friendly services. Through nine modules, each with 5-6 sub-themes, the full training course for medical staff encompasses the basics of adolescent development, approaches to integrated youth-friendly service provision and detailed coursework on relevant medical and social themes. The project has also provided more than 100 health care workers with contraceptive technology updates and is training staff at all levels, from the 12 health units to six maternity waiting homes to five hospital delivery wards, on providing respectful maternity care for adolescents and young women. A small provision to support especially vulnerable pregnant adolescent girls and young women with personal hygiene, post-partum and newborn kits proved to be invaluable during the pandemic, when many households lost income due to job loss.
In response to COVID-19, the project also distributed more than $10,000 in cash transfers so that adolescent girls, boys and their families could buy period products, food and other necessities. In addition, personal protective equipment was provided to participating health facilities for health staff.
Rounding out the holistic model, a communication campaign is raising awareness of adolescent sexual and reproductive health. The campaign aims to safely build community and family support using diverse media while COVID-19 restrictions continue to limit other types of community outreach.
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