Twenty teachers from 7 different secondary schools had two days of training on 18-19 March 2012 to serve as resource educators for the PALS (Partnership in Adolescent Learner Support) programme that Mpilonhle has initiated in collaboration with local schools.
The PALS programme assures that support is available to adolescents in secondary schools even when the Mpilonhle Mobile units are not there. The mobile units, which visits schools for a week at a time every four to eight weeks, provide an integrated programme of health services and health education, including primary health care and reproductive health services, and voluntary HIV testing. Mpilonhle staff then provide back-up to resource educators in the schools when the units are not on site.
This was the second training session for resource educators. Resource educators are available to learners with concerns about physical, mental health or social problems, and work with peer counselors in the schools to provide this support.
The training focused on how to identify and intervene with vulnerable learners, including supporting pregnant learners and helping them realize they have choices. The material included mentoring and counseling skills, sexual and reproductive rights, substance abuse, poor health, family concerns, mental health, behavior problems, interpersonal violence and pregnancy.
The workshop highlighted the challenges young women face in the school environment when they are pregnant, and the role that teachers can have in supporting both pregnant learners and the reproductive health rights of adolescents. Discussions addressed the confusion school staff has expressed about dealing with pregnant learners, strategies for identifying pregnant learners, how to encourage pregnant learners to seek care, and how to support them to stay in school. The workshop trained the mentors to discuss and plan options with a pregnant adolescent in a non-judgmental manner and support her in the decision she makes, including termination. The workshops sessions stressed the availability of the Mpilonhle nurses and social workers to provide care to pregnant learners as needed. Participants received handouts at the end of the workshop that they could use as reference material when returning to the schools.
In addition to Mpilonhle staff, visiting experts participating in the training were Dr. Kathleen Braden, Professor of Pediatrics and Human Development from the University of Massachusetts in the United States, and Dr. Makgoale Magwentshu and Ms Buyile Buthelezi from IPAS, one of the organizations helping to fund the programme. Other funding for the programme is provided by Apexhi and the Discovery Foundation.