Small in Age, Big in Ambition: How Youth Programs Are Empowering Future Health Leaders in Madagascar

July 02, 2024

Small in Age, Big in Ambition: How Youth Programs Are Empowering Future Health Leaders in Madagascar

“I’m going to be a judge! I’ll make protecting children’s rights my mission!” exclaimed 13-year-old Gilbertine. Wise beyond her years, the young student is on track to achieve that ambitious dream and has already established herself as a leader and role model among her peers at Tsarasaotra Public College, located in the Port Bergé district at the heart of the Sofia region in Northwest Madagascar.

Like many young people her age, Gilbertine enjoys hanging out with friends and playing handball, and she excels in the art of oratory, locally known as “kabary.” She is also one of more than 42,000 young students who have participated in training sessions on reproductive health, substance abuse prevention, and other healthy behaviors to become a Young Champion, or Tanora Mendrika Salama (TMS).  

The USAID Accessible Continuum of Care and Essential Services Sustained (ACCESS) Program, led by Management Sciences for Health (MSH) and partners including the Johns Hopkins Center for Communications Program, provides this training in public high schools and colleges across the 11 ACCESS-supported regions in Madagascar. In collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health, the Ministry of National Education, and the Ministry of Youth and Sports, USAID ACCESS, with Orange Madagascar, set up 40 youth corners at public schools across Madagascar to give young people the opportunity to expand their knowledge and become responsible adults of tomorrow. 

Gilbertine, a youth leader, educates other young people in her community on adolescent health issues. USAID ACCESS program, Madagascar
Gilbertine (left), a Young Champion, or Tanora Mendrika Salama (TMS), educates youths in her community on adolescent health issues. Photo credit: MSH

Gilbertine first participated in this training in June 2022, where she learned about early pregnancy, gender-based violence, and knowing how to say “no.” Today, she has fulfilled the four prerequisites to become a Young Champion or TMS: she has never experienced an unwanted pregnancy, she does not drink or smoke, she educates her peers about proper behavior, and she is a good leader.

Gilbertine acknowledges that having conversations about these sensitive but important topics can be difficult and sometimes uncomfortable, which can cause young people to avoid them altogether. However, thanks to the ACCESS-hosted trainings, these discussions have become more frequent and successful.

“The most challenging part was addressing menstrual hygiene and sexual health because there was a lot of modesty among us,” Gilbertine said after a sensitization session. “But thanks to the approaches we learned, we were able to have a friendly and participatory session.”

Gilbertine is proud of her TMS status and is committed to making an impact as a peer educator in her community. “Many of my friends, especially those in rural areas, are unaware of the dangers of drug addiction, alcohol, and early pregnancy. But I can help spread the lessons I’ve learned and encourage them to adopt healthy behaviors so they, too, can become young role models for society, or Tanora Filamatra Aho (TAFA), like me.”

Like many Young Champions in the program, the future for Gilbertine is bright and full of opportunities. After completing her baccalaureate, she plans to attend university to study law and achieve her dream of becoming a judge. Between her educational success and community activism, Gilbertine is a shining example of why prioritizing youth empowerment is vital to establishing healthy, sustainable communities. As Gilbertine said best, “It’s the choices we make in our youth that define our life as future adults.” With this message in mind, the USAID ACCESS Program is committed to educating and empowering young people to make healthy decisions, which, in turn, will lead to better health outcomes for all Malagasy people.