Lakmini Perera, a gender programme officer at WFP, agrees that one of the project’s main achievements was collaboration. “Materials, partners and conversations around gender [were cross-pollinated]. It was also new for the government to collaborate across sectors – gender, health, and nutrition.” This kind of model presents opportunities for a multiplier effect.
Innovative aspects of this program abound. A mobile phone application (app) was developed to track progress. Videos were made for 9th graders, designed to be shown to both boys and girls during a class on life skills. Finally, cooking demonstrations were held with an added twist, (described below).
A new app for Mother Support Groups
Originally, these groups were formed through a collaborative project between WFP and UNFPA to raise awareness on nutrition, with the potential to address more sensitive issues like sexual and reproductive health and gender inequities. As many as 1250 MSGs meet regularly in six districts, and the programme touched on many of these during ‘Training of Trainers’ sessions that targeted medical officers and other community volunteers in 78 Ministry of Health areas.
To keep track of the frequency of group meetings, as well as who is leading the discussion and what topics they covered, an app was developed. “Note-taking on meetings was not systematic,” Sarah reflects. “The app acts as a monitoring tool to put everything in one place. Pictures and stories can be uploaded. It helps groups connect with other groups. On a national level, program managers can access data, see the progress in topics the groups.”
Still in its infancy, trainings on how to use the app had begun just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut the country down.
Videos model new gender norms
Lakmini anticipates that the most valuable tools for participants in the program will be the video series for schools, developed for the CHANGE programme. Two social behaviour change communication (SBCC) videos have been produced in the two local languages. As this goes to press, the videos are in the final stages of production.
The series is based on life skills and incorporates nutrition as well as sexual and reproductive health, addressing topics such as puberty, menstruation and positive body image, to name a few. “In the videos, we model a boy talking to the girl about some of these taboo subjects, to normalize these kinds of discussions,” says Lakmini. “It comes with a teacher’s guide to make sure the right messages are shared. We don’t have sex education [as part of the curriculum], so teachers don’t usually touch on these sensitive issues. Pending approval by the Ministry of Education and other government agencies, we think this series will be a useful tool especially concerning gender norms and inequities.”
The video features a section on ‘making healthy food choices’ which explains the importance of nutrient-dense food for adolescents, emphasizing that healthy food choices ensure better concentration and productivity. It also touches on the long-term effects on immunity levels, obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Another section reviews the benefits of being physically active.