It is two o’clock on Saturday at the provincial school in Sapouy, a county in southern Burkina Faso about 100 kilometres from the capital, Ouagadougou. Calm reigns over this temple of knowledge that is typically buzzing.
But it’s not always easy for students here to concentrate on their studies. Unwanted pregnancies, early childbirth, and sexually transmitted diseases affect some students. Added to this are communication crises between parents and children in distress. Attitudes toward sexuality in some customs make sex a taboo subject.
But at this secondary school, students are deciding to break the silence. They have set up several clubs: an anti-AIDS club, a sexual and reproductive health club, a human rights club, an ecology club, and a civics club. The youth get together on non-school days, particularly Saturday evenings, to discuss questions that affect them and their work environment.
Adiatou Bénao is a 17-year-old student. She says, “The exchanges in these clubs allow me to broach, without embarrassment, questions of sexuality with both my parents. They always give me useful advice.”
The leadership of each club consists of six students from different classes. They elect an adult advisor.
Today, the students are meeting with the school principal Adama Sakandé and his guest, Amadou Compaoré, 79 years old and retired. The theme of today’s discussion is communication between students and their parents for responsible and healthy sexuality. Between tradition, parental pressure, and the pull of modernity, the youth face many pressures.
Mr. Compaoré is a specialist in interpersonal communication and he dissects the issues. He gives useful advice to the youth about their responsibilities and the need to discuss issues of sexuality with their parents. He suggests that the students take the initiative to talk to their parents so that sexuality does not become a taboo topic.
He explains, “I am the advisor to certain student groups and I often lead mediation between parents and adolescents in crisis.” Through interactive exchanges, he and the students in the club have developed strategies for approaching communication between parents and adolescents.
Principal Mr. Sakandé adds: “With different oral discussions organized by the school, my students no longer experience difficulties in speaking and giving their points of view. This is what, in fact, facilitates communication with parents.”
He adds, “The existence of these clubs in my institution in fact makes it a model in the province.”
Club members generally discuss students’ concerns before they are taken to the school administration. The club leadership is responsible for relaying information to their classmates.
Issouf Diallo is 18 years old and says that he was able to speak to his mother, who is patient with her children. He adds, “I confided my concerns about sexuality to her.”
Réseau Africain Jeunesse Santé et Développement is a Burkinabe organization that addresses youth health and development. The organization developed a strategy to address the theme of communication between parents and youth for responsible and healthy sexuality. The strategy relies on a peer educator as a leader. This person is trained and then responsible for sharing the training with club members.
To facilitate this, the organization establishes clubs for youth of different ages. Depending on the age of the teens in the group, a theme is developed. For example, abstinence might be a topic for one group and proper use of a condom for another. The organization also works with the youth to develop personal plans for preventing sexually transmitted diseases.
Mahama Sawadogo is the provincial coordinator for the organization in the Hauts-Bassins region. He says: “We have also trained the advisors from the community to work with these clubs with the objective of facilitating communication between adolescents and parents.” If youth encounter difficulties, the advisor serves as a mediator to resolve the problem.
The organization urges parents to communicate more with youth, to listen to them attentively, and to respect their private life. When parents act in these ways, youth are more motivated to open up to them and find solutions before a situation becomes a crisis.
Sankara Morou is a student at the school in Sapouy. He says that these communication tools have helped. He recalls, “Before the creation of these clubs, I was ashamed to broach questions of sexuality with my parents. Now I am more accustomed [to talking about it].”
This article was produced with the support of the Government of Canada through the project “Promoting health, sexual and reproductive rights, and nutrition among adolescents in Burkina Faso (AdoSante).” The AdoSante project is led by a consortium including Helen Keller International, Marie Stopes-Burkina Faso (MS/BF), Farm Radio International, the Centre d’information de Conseils et de Documentation sur le Sida et la Tuberculeuse (CICDoc), and the Réseau Afrique Jeunesse Santé et Développement (RAJS).