Saly Sadio lives in Kolda, a region in the south of Senegal. She has a disability in her left leg since her excision. | © A. Faye / HI
Saly is 22 years old and lives in the Kolda region of Senegal. She is a peer educator working to raise the awareness of young people to sexual health and disability issues.
As a peer educator trained by HI, Saly tours the neighbourhoods organising community talks and raising awareness of sexual health issues among young people. She invites 10 girls and 10 boys to discuss four subjects: puberty, sexuality and consent, family planning and sexual violence.
"In addition to my awareness-raising work for HI, I share my knowledge and experience with young teenage girls in my neighbourhood. They are often victims of abuse but never talk about it. These subjects are taboo here; we don't discuss them with our parents. But between young people, we can discuss the consequences of sexual violence," she explains.
Violence is something Saly knows all too well. When she was just three years old, her mother took her to her grandmother's village for a visit.
"One evening, a group of women came to our house. My grandmother asked me to join them in the bedroom. They spread my legs and I screamed... Then I fainted. I can't remember anything else."
Saly had been subjected to female genital mutilation. Afterwards, she was bedridden for many weeks. Her mother then noticed that she was having difficulty walking. She took her to the hospital, where the doctor informed them that Saly could no longer walk properly because her right foot had remained contracted for too long. Her parents couldn't afford the corrective surgery she needed.
Despite her young age, Saly remained determined. One day, she crossed paths with members of HI’s team and was at last given access to the appropriate medical care. After three painful operations, she could extend her right foot by a few more centimetres. She learned to move around on crutches and attended rehabilitation sessions.
Saly had dropped out of school at a very early age, not only because of the physical inaccessibility of the school buildings, but because the other children made fun of her for how she walked. So HI's team enrolled her at the Conseil Ado centre, which provides advice and guidance to young victims of violence.
For a year, Saly took part in talks organised at the centre by HI and developed her leadership skills and self-confidence. She was then able to define a professional project. Today, Saly has her own sewing workshop and dreams of making outfits for the country's leading figures.
Saly also became a volunteer and accompanied HI to awareness-raising sessions with other young people living in the remote villages of Kolda. With the knowledge she had acquired and the skills she had developed, she made a key contribution to these activities. In 2022, when a team member was due to leave the project, she was asked to become a peer educator.
"The day they told me the news, I didn't sleep all night because I was so happy! Me, Saly, who everyone laughed at! At home, I'm not taken seriously because I'm disabled, and here I was being offered a job. It was the happiest day of my life."
Today, Saly has just one message to pass on: "I ask all mothers to stop hiding their children with disabilities at home. Dare to take your disabled children out, enrol them in school or in vocational training. Look at me: if I, Saly, can do it, so can your children."
Launched in 2020, the ENSEMBLE project (Education necessary for equitable sexual and reproductive health in order to take control of one's well-being and be free to make one's own choices) aims to improve access to sexual and reproductive health services and related rights, with a focus on women and adolescent girls, including those with disabilities. The project adopts a social and behavioural change approach based on the active participation of beneficiaries and a gender-based analysis, including excluded groups such as people with disabilities. Funded by Global Affairs Canada, it is also being implemented in Togo and Côte d'Ivoire, in partnership with CARE Canada.
To date, the ENSEMBLE project has achieved the following results: