Serena's Test

It is day one of our training on the basics of family planning and social communication in one of the 
Somali refugee camps in Djibouti. 


Many women and some girls take part in this training session, which looks a lot more like a group 
discussion. During this session, women enjoy the opportunity to talk about daily life in their household, 
such as the threat of men and use of religious arguments in case of refusal to have sexual intercourse, 
forced sexual intercourse even during menstruation, etc. 
It is exactly noon and participants have 45 minutes for prayer. The training room is empty and while my 
interpreter and I are waiting for participants to come back, a woman returns with a young girl named 
Zahra (not her real name). 
Zahra is around 12 years old. She is in primary school in Grade 6 and speaks, understands and writes 
The woman gives Zahra a chair and hands her a notepad and pen, explaining that Zahra will take notes for 
her and write down everything that the facilitator says about the benefits of birth spacing and limiting and 
the different methods available in the camps. 
After observing the scene from afar, my curiosity causes me to ask the woman “who is the girl with you 
and why you do not take notes yourself?” 
Proudly, she tells me “Zahra is my daughter. I cannot read or write because I did not go to school. So, I 
asked my daughter to accompany me here every day so that she can take notes and read them back to me 
at home.” 
I nod and tell her that it is a good idea, not only because her daughter makes a good teacher but also 
because her daughter is learning about things that she needs to know in order to safeguard her health and 
During the three-day training, Zahra helps her mother to get the most benefit from the training session by 
recording the content and repeating it at home. 
I leave the training with the hope that this girl, who can already read and write, will have a better future 
than her mother due to recent establishment of a secondary school in the refugee camp. 
Girls' education and the promotion of women's rights to access information and sexual health services is 
an investment that will improve the reproductive health and well-being of girls and women for 
generations to come.