Fifty-one students from 8 secondary schools took time out from their Easter Holiday to spend four days training to be school-based peer counselors as part of Mpilonhle’s PALS (Partnership for Adolescent Learner Support) Programme. This programme aims to provide an ongoing support to vulnerable learners, including pregnant learners, in schools that Mpilonhle provides service
Mpilonhle’s mobile units visit participating schools four to eight times per year for a week at a time. The PALS programme aims to provide continuing support to each of these schools by training resource educators and peer counselors in the schools who then have the backup of Mpilonhle’s nurses and social workers and psychologists. Peer counselors work with the resource educators in supporting other learners, including those who are pregnant, at greatest risk of pregnancy, or who have been victims of abuse.
The workshop, led by Mpilonhle social workers Thapelo Ntombelo and Babalwa Makalima, covered mentoring skills as well as discussing gender issues and sexual and reproductive health and rights. These sessions involved discussions of the important role of learners in the support of their
peers, and how this is different and compatible with the role of the educators. Discussions highlighted the challenges adolescents face in the rural Umkhanyakude District, including sexual and physical violence, substance abuse, and mental health issues. The sessions stressed the importance of offering choices and considering consequences when facing their own challenges and counseling others. The sessions inspired intense discussions about
adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights. Peer counselors received handouts that will serve as guidance documents when they return to schools.