Why ‘O3 and O3 plus’ programme remain important to Tanzania

NAISHOOKI Lairumbe, a young female student at the University of Dar es Salaam has been one of the benefactrices of the ‘Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future (O3) Programme’ that seeks to improve sexual and reproductive health, gender and education outcomes for adolescents and youth in sub-Saharan Africa through sustained reductions in new HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, early and unintended pregnancy and gender-based violence.

It is the largest comprehensive sexuality education programme in sub-Saharan Africa, covering 33 countries, with a budget exceeding USD $45 million, with financial contributions from France, Ireland, Norway, Sweden and the Packard Foundation.

After her good performance in the programme, Ms Lairumbe was selected to be one of the 17 ‘ambassadors’ of O3 from Eastern and Southern Africa, recruited in February 2023 with the role to disseminate age-appropriate education or health and well-being and sexual and reproductive health and rights content for adolescents and young people (at secondary and tertiary levels, including out of school youth).

“In the past four months, I succeeded in motivating young people to study Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and online courses that provide students with age-appropriate information concerning sexuality, adolescence, HIV, STIs and STDs to help them manage their life in campuses and outside school,” she explained.

Furthermore, she said “Using my social media platforms Instagram and twitter, I have effectively disseminated content in the form of short videos and posters concerning gender-based violence, the myths and conceptions related to HIV/AIDS and other crucial issues facing young people. This provides a clear picture to the community on the kind of future we want as the youth today.”

Ms Lairumbe said the biggest challenge she faced has been young people failing to share their stories due to their negative perceptions and social norms and also young people are not actively engaging with the content because of the high cost of data.

In her speech at the official launch of the continuation of the ‘Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future’ (O3) project, at the Hotel Verde here last Thursday, the Zanzibar Minister of Education and Vocational Training Ms Lela Mohamed Mussa delivered special appreciations to funding partners for their commitment to support the implementation of the O3 project.

Ms Mussa said “Although we have made a lot of progress, the O3 and O3 PLUS Programmes remain very important to the context of Tanzania. As you may know, Tanzania is facing challenges in the health and well-being of adolescents.”

She commended UNESCO, as lead sponsor, for the ‘amazing’ work done through the O3 program phase one and O3 PLUS program, recording great achievements, saying that the objectives have been met, “I see a brighter future for adolescents and young people in the East and South Africa (ESA) community.”

“It is therefore important that we continue to make use of the various learning and sharing platforms that the O3 program has created. This will help all the countries to learn from each other and work for a better future for all young people,” she explained.

The Minister promised that the United Republic of Tanzania government through relevant ministries and institutions will continue to provide the required support so that they can successfully achieve the planned objectives for the benefit of adolescents and young people in the region.

Previously before the launch of the O3 phase two, the Minister delivered remarks at the annual review meeting of the O3 project phase one, saying that adolescents and young people are the heartbeat of every community, hence empowering them to be healthy and resilient is key to the future development of any country.

She said that the United Republic of Tanzania government continues to take initiatives to ensure that adolescents and young people get accurate, culturally, and age-appropriate sexual and reproductive health education so that schools and universities are free from violence and safe for all learners and tutors.

Ms Lela said “We are grateful to Programmes like O3 and O3 PLUS and the generous support from the funding partners, UNESCO and One UN Zanzibar for joining hands with Zanzibar government to make our children excel in their education journey with the appropriate knowledge, skills and competencies required for preventing HIV, reducing early and unintended pregnancies and eliminating gender-based violence.”

Speaking at the event (which started with the O3 and O3 PLUS 2022 Annual Review and Partners’ meeting) attended by participants from at least 26 countries, Prof Hubert Gijzen, Regional Director and Representative, UNESCO Regional Office for East Africa said the programme which started in 2018 had a vision of having “Africa where all adolescents and young people attain positive health, education and gender equality outcomes.”

Mr Gijzen informed the gathering “I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to our development partners, the governments of France, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the Packard Foundation for their steadfast commitment that has made the O3 programme a success,” he said.

Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo, Cote divo, DRC, Eswatini, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Zambia, South Sudan, Tanzania Mainland, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and host Zanzibar were represented at the meeting and launching event.

The event participants reviewed progress, lessons learned, challenges faced and priorities for Phase 2, and it was an occasion for dialogue between the UNESCO O3 team, O3 partners, government representatives, civil society, and young people.

In her Brief remarks at the annual review meeting, Ms Elisabeth Hårleman, Head of Development Cooperation, Embassy of Sweden to South Africa said “Sweden has been a partner to UNESCO for many years and we appreciate the mutual cooperation and the commitment to promote fundamental human rights and gender equality throughout the world.”

She said that Sweden continues to be the largest funding partner to the O3 programme and recently made the decision to increase funding to a total of 353 million SEK over four years in the second phase, “We remain committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights, and supporting adolescents and youth in exercising their right to health and wellbeing is a priority.”

Ms Hårleman said that she was pleased to see the results achieved in Africa’s largest programme on comprehensive sexuality education that reached 34.5 million learners in schools and more than 60 million young people in- and out of school through media platforms.

It also strengthened capacities of more than 535,000 pre-service and in-service teachers and engaging large numbers of community members along the way, securing and maintaining the commitment of policy-makers in East and Southern Africa for the implementation of sexuality education and provision of services to adolescents and young people.

She said that because of political commitments, O3 has contributed to ensuring that schools and community environments are safer and healthier for adolescents, and to positive changes in gender attitudes.

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