Girls from Ethiopia’s May Genet community gather each August for Ashenda, a cultural and religious celebration marked by singing and dancing. Ashenda is also a time when parents seek husbands for their adolescent daughters, with weddings often taking place less than six months later.
The Relief Society of Tigray, funded by the Packard Foundation, has successfully launched a project at the time of Ashenda to remind girls and their parents about the health and social benefits of delaying early marriage and childbearing.
Through peer educators like Gebru Mebratu, an 18-year-old high school graduate, the project holds contests for girls, awarding winners with educational materials that are shared with local churches. Gebru and his colleagues follow up after the festival to invite girls to join discussion groups that meet monthly close to religious days. The peer educators help girls share their concerns, find answers to their health questions, and educate them about family planning, safe married life, and caring for children.
The program also recognizes that social pressures on the girls continue after marriage. Across the community, newlywed couples are expected to have a child by their first year of marriage or else get divorced.
Gebru and his colleagues continue to support the married girls by staying involved in their lives and educating them, their husbands, and their parents about the benefits of waiting for at least one year before getting pregnant. The result has been more healthy families and a healthier community.
(Creative Commons image courtesy Eveline314, Flickr)