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Globally, disabled adolescents and young people face even greater challenges accessing SRH (sexual and reproductive health) information and services, and in realising their rights, than their non-disabled peers. Evidence shows that they are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation, STIs and HIV and unplanned pregnancy, whilst also being at greater risk of being left behind when it comes to the provision and accessibility of essential SRH care. 

We are increasing the scope and scale of our work in this field, drawing on the successes and impact of our programme in Rwanda, where we have collaborated with the Ministry of Health to improve the quality and accessibility of essential SRH services for deaf young people. 

Key to our approach is training community health workers and nurses in sign language and disability awareness, equipping them not only with the practical skills needed to communicate effectively with deaf youth, but also the confidence to engage with disabled people more broadly.  This is complemented by further training for deaf young people in the use of sign language, especially key phrases needed to talk about SRHR. 

As we scale up our programming, we will work to empower disabled young people to understand SRH and their rights to healthcare, with our volunteers sharing information and knowledge in accessible formats such as sign language, braille and talking books.

We will train disabled young people to become peer educators, mentors and advocates, acting as role models in their communities and challenging existing harmful stereotypes of disabled people. 

Project focus: Imbere Heza - Ensuring deaf young people in Rwanda don’t miss out on essential sexual and reproductive healthcare

National volunteer Brown Niyonsaba with one of the Imbere Heza project participants VSO/Mussa

National volunteer Brown Niyonsaba with one of the Imbere Heza project participants.

In Rwanda, more than 30,000 people experience hearing loss, many of whom are denied access to healthcare. A lack of interpreters and limited knowledge of sign language among health professionals means some deaf people are not given the right information or treatment.

As part of the the Imbere Heza project in Rwanda’s Nyagatere region, deaf national volunteer Brown Niyonsaba is training health professionals and young people in Rwandan Sign Language, empowering adolescents with hearing impairments to make informed decisions about their sexual health and access the services they are entitled to. 

Brown has run intensive RSL training courses with almost 200 frontline health staff, equipping them with the skills needed to understand the health concerns of their deaf patients and explain treatment options.

She has also acted as a role model, running education sessions on sexual health and rights with deaf young people, as well as teaching them the basic signs needed to communicate their needs and concerns effectively.

"This project is innovative. I am the first and only Deaf VSO Rwanda national volunteer. This is the only project of its kind in the whole country."

Recent results:

  • 250 deaf young people educated on sexual and reproductive health
  • 191 healthcare professionals taught basic sign language skills
  • 3,000 parents and community members educated on Deaf awareness and sexual health issues
  • 100 deaf people trained in Rwandan sign language

Other areas of our work supporting healthy communities