Adolescent Empowerment programme

Many marginalised adolescents in developing countries experience that they have few opportunities to make decisions for themselves and their own future; which can ultimately lead to feelings of exclusion or other mental health challenges. Poverty leads many families to make decisions that negatively affect their children, such as letting them drop out of school due to high school fees, child marriages, abuse and exploitation.

Our Adolescent Empowerment programme provides life skills training for young people in developing countries who have often dropped out of school due to poverty and/or disability. We want to give them the tools they need to take ownership of their own  lives. The goal is to make them proud and independent, give them knowledge about their own rights and the opportunity to earn their own money. Through this programme, they gain the tools to fight against child marriage, exclusion and exploitation.

The programme lasts between 9-12 months, depending on which country. By the end of the programme, they have more confidence and are able to stand up for their own as well as advocate for the rights of others. 

Our Adolescent Empowerment programme started in Bangladesh (2006) with the programme "Shonglap". The results were so impressive that it was continued in Nepal where it is called “Samvad”. The results continued to excel and the programme was carried over to East Africa, where it was named "Bonga", to West Africa “Tamadash” and to Myanmar “Sagar Wine”.

Shonglap, Samvad, Bonga, Tamadash and Sagar Wine all mean “dialogue”. The courses are based on the same principles, with a dialogue-based approach inspired by the teaching method of the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, "The pedagogy of the oppressed". The groups are led by a supervisor and are adapted to the challenges of the adolescents in their local context.

The programme is categorized in three phases:


1. Dialogue & problem solving phase

The adolescents meet daily in groups of 25-30, together with a tutor (animator). They actively participate in mapping their everyday lives, analysing the challenges they face and discussing solutions. Together with the supervisor, they learn about health, hygiene, discrimination, the dowry system, HIV / AIDS, child marriage, sexual gender based violence (SGBV), trafficking, prostitution and their rights.


2. Life skills phase

During the life skills phase, the adolescents learn skills such as problem solving, decision making, creative thinking, communication, self-awareness, empathy, coping with stress, reading and writing. An important aspect of this phase is to share their new knowledge among their friends, family and community. They do this through performances and public meetings.

3. Vocational training phase

During the final vocational training phase, some participants receive vocational training, so they can create a job and earn their own money. Some join savings and loan groups, and invest what they have saved in tools, sewing machines, pets, etc. While others get help to re-enrol in school, so they can continue their education.


Happy adolescent girls attending the Adolescent Empowerment Programme, Bonga.

The pedagogy of the oppressed

Parts of the programme are inspired by the ideas of the Brazilian teacher Paulo Freire (1921-1997), who is one of the central international figures in dialogue pedagogy. Freire wrote the book "Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, and his teaching method is an instrument to mobilise young people through literacy and awareness raising.

Freire wanted to make education a liberating development process, which would make the world more recognisable to the student. He wanted to "live the culture of silence", and through his pedagogical method, give people who were oppressed the ability to "regain the story of themselves", as he put it.

Involvement and decision making

Over the course of the programme, the adolescents themselves are largely involved in shaping the programme. The animator's job is to facilitate a good environment for dialogue within the group. The adolescents identify problems within their local community that they would like to address. They then describe and define the situation themselves and reflect on the root causes. Finally, the group devises a plan for how they will address the situation together. What can they do to combat these challenges, even in situations where the starting point is difficult?

Utilising cultural forms of expression

Music, dance and drama are important elements in many cultures. In public school, there is little room for these forms of expression. In SF’s Adolescent Empowerment Programme, singing and drama play important roles in the pedagogic approach. The adolescents create performances depicting their current situations and dilemmas that are typical of life in the village. These plays are often shown in public and contribute to the project being anchored in the local community and knowledge sharing.

Young animators

The animators have a very important role and are most often young women who are recruited locally. This is important to start a safe and productive dialogue in the group. They have completed basic education and often upper secondary education. As animators, they receive their own training, and each month they receive one to two days of follow-up and further education.

Support groups

At each center, a support group is established consisting of adults from the village, often parents and local leaders. These individuals have local influence and trust to support the participating adolescents. These support groups play a large role in the success of the Adolescent Empowerment Programme.