By Mireille Sekamana, a junior designer from Kigali, Rwanda. She works with YLabs to design digital platforms that provide health education to empower young people in Rwanda. Mireille is taking part in the Switched On Symposium in Istanbul, Turkey, 19-21 February 2020, around sexuality education in the digital space. This blog follows one posted earlier this week with a new technical brief by UNESCO on sexuality education and information online
As a designer, part of my job is to sit with young people and understand the kind of information they need, what kind of services they’re looking for, and how they actually want to receive those services. Last week, I met with a group of young boys and girls at a youth center in Kigali, Rwanda to test a new component of a digital health education program that connects users to high-quality, youth-friendly services at local pharmacies.
The room was filled with a flurry of noise and excitement as we worked together to test and iterate on the prototypes. And suddenly, a thought came to me: Three short years ago, I was the young person sitting across the table being interviewed about this very product called CyberRwanda. I was the person who was invited to co-design a solution to a problem that I saw and identified in my life. And now, I am the designer leading these workshops.
Coming to work at YLabs, a nonprofit design studio that focuses on adolescent health and wellbeing, has been a great thing in my life, but I know that it had been a great thing for YLabs as well. Involving, and hiring, youth designers from the very beginning of a project help to make it more innovative, more cherished, and more sustainable.
Young people are already relying on digital resources for sex education information, but most platforms out there aren’t designed with young people in mind. So, as we gather from around the world at the UNESCO Switched On conference to talk about sexuality education in the digital space, this is my message to you: If you want your digital health program to be successful – hire a youth designer.
The project that I am working on is called CyberRwanda. It is a 4-year project that combines technology and storytelling to equip and empower adolescents with the knowledge and self-efficacy to prevent unplanned pregnancy and HIV in Rwanda.
It is an online platform that weaves together edutainment behavior change stories, a robust FAQ library, and a health service locator to deliver integrated, age-appropriate adolescent health information, employment skills, and linkage to services. Offline, the CyberRwanda project also trains pharmacists at partnering health facilities on provider bias, youth rights to access to health products, and voluntary FP/RH care. We are currently piloting the project and running a Randomized Control Trial with the University of California Berkeley’s School of Public Health and the University of Rwanda’s School of Public Health to assess the impact and cost-effectiveness of the program. After we are able to assess the impact evaluation, we will launch CyberRwanda on a national level in 2022.
It is helpful to believe in this project because we have won the support of so many important stakeholders in the country. We are working closely with our implementing partner, the Society for Family Health – Rwanda and have the support of the Ministry of Health, the Rwanda Biomedical Center, Rwandan Adolescent Health specialists, and the Ministry of Education.
But in truth, the real reason that I believe that this youth-facing sexuality education digital tool will be successful is that young people in Rwanda have been at the front of its design process from the first day.
CyberRwanda is what I wish I had when I was a teenager. It has the kind of reproductive health information that I wish I had received when I first got my period, or when I first had a boyfriend. It has the kind of information, delivered in a safe, supportive, and private way that I wish I had received when I was young because if I had – there were some mistakes in life that I would not have made and there are some fears I had that I wouldn’t have had. And now, after I was hired by YLabs and have become a full-time designer myself, this is what I see and hear from the young people who are helping me to test and improve the platform. This is something that they want and need, just like I did. This is why I believe in the project, and this is why I believe that every digital health program should have a youth designer.
If you are attending Switched On and want to hear more about CyberRwanda, I invite you to come to my session, From Education to Service Provision: CyberRwanda. I promise you’ll walk away inspired with ideas on how to bring young people into your design process and to ensure that young people see themselves in digital resources aimed at improving their sexual health.
CyberRwanda was made possible by the generous support of the American people through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of YLabs and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government. Additional support provided by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.