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Peer to peer in Papua New Guinea

Marie Stopes Papua New Guinea (PNG) has been working with students at the country’s main university as part of a push to spread knowledge about family planning to the youth of PNG.

The program’s experienced staff have been running workshops with students at the University of PNG to prepare them to take the message of family planning to their peers.

At one session the group shared their experiences of sexual and reproductive health within their communities and learned about family planning, STIs and HIV.

Comparing the common features of an unplanned family to those of a planned one, the students noted the strain that having a child every year can have on a mother’s body, and the financial burden of supporting many children with no savings and a high cost of living.

Real-life experiences

Jeremy is a second year Information Communications Technology student from the New Guinea Islands. During the session he shared his experiences:

“In my family we are seven.” he says “My father took another wife so we have two half siblings. I see my dad move on with a second wife, and my mother struggle without work. My younger siblings are already looking to me for support.

“I don’t know if my parents ever planned to have so many children, but I know I want to have a planned family with only one or two kids. Family planning will be really important to me.”

Planning to spread the word

Jeremy is now convinced of the importance of contraception and is already planning to spread the word, not just among university students but also in the wider community:

“When I go home to my rural community in Rabaul, I will talk to my family and peers there. Last time I went home and saw my young cousins already married and pregnant. Some are only 16 years old, and it is so sad.”

Jeremy’s friend Clement is a first year English Communications student, from Madang and Milne Bay but resident in Lae. He has seen the effect of an expanding population in the tribal and student violence in Morobe, which occurred recently.

“Young life should be enjoyable”

He spoke about a school friend, who was unable to take up her place at university when she got pregnant at 19. Her boyfriend wasn’t ready to give up his youthful lifestyle, leaving her in a terrible situation.

“Young life should be enjoyable,” Clement says “but if you have children before you have saved sufficiently for their upbringing you will become a burden on your parents.

“It makes me emotional to think of the maternal mortality in PNG. It doesn’t need to be this way in such a rich and beautiful country. I see its effects on my village, and I want to thank the government for their help in supporting programs to save our mothers.”

“They run out of money and can’t sustain their families”

Joita is a second year social work student. She joined the peer education program to improve her confidence and knowledge of reproductive health. Back in her village in East Sepik, she sees a lot of unmet need for these services.

Family planning hasn’t yet reached her community, and many of her friends there are already having a child every year, even those as young as 14.

“They run out of money and can’t sustain their families. Demand for everything in the village is high.”

After only one day of training, Joita was already in action as a peer educator. She went back to her dormitory, and when her friends gathered on the floor to tell stories she introduced the different family planning information she had learned.

The other participants were equally motivated to share their knowledge and each of them created action plans to disseminate their new knowledge among their peers and guide them to services. There’s a long way to go to get the message out there but with such smart and motivated ambassadors, Marie Stopes PNG is making great progress.

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