Girls learn about their health and well-being

More than 200 girls from different schools gathered at ID Mkhize High School on Saturday June 2 for a Health and Welfare Jamboree to learn vital health and welfare tips.

Thejamboree, organised by the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation’s Zimele Project, in partnership with the Western Cape Education Department’s Young Women and Girls programme, saw girls from Fezeka, Oscar Mpetha, Intshukumo, Sithembele Matiso, ID Mkhize, Heideveld and Manenberg high schools coming under one roof to learn valuable life lessons, particularly around health, from experts.

They were also screened for different illnesses and learnt about eating healthy. Officials from the departments of social development and home affairs, as well as representatives from different organisations including CANSA, Cape Town Society for the Blind and Institute for the Promotion of Disabled Manpower, shared their knowledge with the pupils.

ZimeleProject schoolsprogramme co-ordinator,Gail Roman, said the initiative targeted girls in the “poverty stricken” Klipfontein and Mitchell’s Plain sub-districts and aimed to build strong and independent women.

The jamboree is held once a quarter when vulnerable young women can access different services in a “temporary and highly effective one-stop shop”.

Zimele was established last year by the foundation to provide health care services tailored to adolescent needs and strong educational support and social empowerment.

It also equips them with the ability to deal with puberty and pending adulthood challenges.

Ms Roman said young women were more at risk of contracting HIV and measures were necessary to curb the scourge and to ensure the girls remained at school.

Through the project, she said they hoped to reduce HIV infections among young girls, keep girls at school until they graduate and reduce teenage pregnancy.

“If our students are able to learn how to take responsibility for their choices and to make good choices, things will not be as difficult later in their lives,” she said.

“The keeping girls in school programme is built on the belief that it is our empowered and educated youth that will bring about change in this country when it comes to lowering the rate of new HIV infections.”

ID Mkhize principal Zola Phahlane hailed the programme. He said his school benefited a lot from the project.

He said the school had numerous challenges and things were starting to change. A nurse visited once a week to help pupils in need and offer a range of health services on the school premises.

“She is also available in emergencies,” he said.

Mr Phahlane said that ensured their pupils did not loose valuable school time at the clinics and the teachers were not forced to do things they were not trained to do, but focused on their academic work.

He said he would like to see the initiative expanded to reach the boys. “The boy pupils are becoming an endangered species,” he said.

“If you offer assistance to girls, you must also send the same message to boys because if boys put pressure on the girls you are not going to achieve the results.”

Mr Phahlane said there were many challenges in society, particularly in the townships, that made studying difficult for pupils. He said it was the duty of the teachers to protect pupils. “We are their last hope,” he said. “I don’t compromise on a pupil.”

CANSA volunteer Jeanette Makopo said cancer was one of the most deadly chronic illnesses. She gave pupils tips on how to prevent and look out for cancer. “Early check up helps,” she said.

She spoke about the leading causes of cancer including the popular hookah pipe. “Hookah pipe is far more dangerous than cigarettes,” she said cautioning the pupils against passive smoking. “When mom or dad smokes, move away. Go for a jog. It is their house, so you cannot tell them to go outside, but you can change their lives by going for a jog. Next time they will join you. Let us help one another,” said Ms Makopo.