Family planning festivals sail into Belo sur Mer

By Lison Garrel, Safidy (Community Health) Programme Coordinator, Belo sur Mer, Madagascar

Last month the commune of Belo sur Mer was in a party mood! And no, it wasn’t because of the rallies preceding the presidential election, it wasn’t because of Christmas getting closer, it was because Blue Ventures’ Safidy programme was holding some family planning festivals!

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The crowds gather for the sailing pirogue race in Belo sur Mer

Safidy has been running in the Belo sur Mer area since June 2013, providing 8,000 people across 10 remote coastal communities with access to sexual and reproductive health information and services. Our baseline health needs assessment highlighted low levels of knowledge about contraceptives, and so we have set about organising a variety of educational activities (including village outreach presentations) to enable couples to make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health.

In four villages around Belo sur Mer, we took advantage of the popularity of kilalaky music and the traditional seafaring culture to organise special awareness raising events, alongside pirogue races and music video projections, focusing on different contraceptive methods, and how to access them from our community-based distributors and through our partnership with Marie Stopes Madagascar‘s mobile outreach teams (for long-acting reversible methods).

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The start of a paddle pirogue race, which was followed by awareness raising presentations

One of the most popular aspects of these festivals were the night projections. Short films and power point presentations animated by our community organisers explored the link between reproductive health, family size, food security and the marine environment, in line with Blue Ventures’ integrated Population-Health-Environment (PHE) approach.

Our event in Belo sur Mer, the commune centre, was even bigger, with members of the Safidy team from Velondriake (including their four community-based distributor supervisors) travelling up to assist with a three-day training workshop for our community-based distributors, followed by the two-day community festival.

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Community-based distributor training workshop

Our community-based distributors had the opportunity to share their knowledge of contraceptives gained from the learning exchange with the Velondriake team, as we set up various stands offering information about different methods: condoms, pills, injections, implants and intra-uterine devices. Posters and leaflets were kindly provided by our partners Marie Stopes Madagascar and Population Services International.

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Local girls seeking information at one of the stalls
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Men and women discussing contraceptive options with our community-based distributors
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Local boys at the condom stall

A special stand about STIs and HIV was staffed by the Belo sur Mer midwife, offering rapid HIV tests, and lots of HIV questions were discussed and answered. Our partner MAHEFA was also present with a water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) stand, and Blue Ventures’ conservation team presented the results of the mangrove reserves in 2013, as well as the latest news on the aquaculture trials.

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Community-based distributors observing the end of the sailing pirogue race in Belo sur Mer

Many little games took place in the morning, to focus attention on the stands and to share information about family planning. In the afternoon, more important races were organised: on the Saturday it was women with paddle pirogues in the channel by Belo sur Mer, and on the Sunday it was men with sailing pirogues.

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Women lining up for a paddle pirogue race
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The start of a sailing pirogue race

On the final night, the winners were presented with brand new pirogue sails painted with family planning messages. These will act as mobile advertisements for Safidy throughout the Belo sur Mer area for years to come.

Lison Garrel

About Lison Garrel

Lison coordinates our reproductive health programme in the Belo sur Mer area. She comes from France, and is a trained nurse with experience working in Mayotte and Reunion. She conducted the baseline needs assessment that led Blue Ventures to expand our family planning activities into the Belo sur Mer area!