Young people took centre stage at the Gasyard recently when they were presented with certificates for successful completion of the Life Choices Programme.
Proud parents and relatives packed the Drum in the Gasyard to give the youngsters a round of applause for their achievements. The 12-week pilot programme based around sexual health and healthy relationships culminated with the young people taking home simulator babies for the weekend.
It was funded by the Neighbourhood Health Improvement Project and Building the Community Pharmacy and was facilitated by the Bogside and Brandywell Health Forum (BBHF).
Donna McCloskey, programme co-ordinator BBHF, said that the programme has been beyond a success.
“It’s been absolutely and utterly amazing. The feedback from the young people, the feedback from the parents has been great. It has created a buzz in the whole community seeing these young men and women walking down the street with their pink changing bags and prams to match and pushing the babies proudly down the street.
“We achieved what we set out to achieve the young people are now more aware of being a parent and a young parent and what it involves.”
The 12-week programme covered everything from safe sex, self esteem to the dangers of alcohol. It finished with the ultimate test as the youngsters took home simulator babies for the weekend.
Each baby had the diary of a real mother with a newborn programmed into it. So it was an entirely realistic experience from dealing with early morning feeds to changing nappies. And the young people certainly got a first hand experience of what it is like raising a newborn.
“We collected the babies on Friday after school in our uniforms and we had them until Sunday afternoon,” explained 13 years-old Leah Gillespie. “From that moment we had to do everything for the baby that a real parent would like feed it, burp it, nurse it and change its nappy.”
For 15 years-old Lauren Gillespie and 14 years-old Natasha McClelland the reality of sleepless nights hit home.
“It was good for the experience but it was really exhausting,” explained Natasha. I named my baby Corey. He cried a lot. I was up until four in the morning and my eyes were glued to the back of my head. I tried everything from changing its nappy to feeding it, sometimes it just wanted to be rocked.
“I was delighted whenever I got my report at the end and I found out I did well. But I definitely don’t want to have a real baby until I’m much older.”
Despite the sleepless nights involved all the young people have agreed that the programme has been well worth it and they have got a lot out of the experience.
Fifteen years-old Jordan Toland said: “For our age group there’s not a lot to do apart from hanging around the streets. I’ve learned loads over the past 12 weeks and it’s been good craic. It’s given me a lot of confidence speaking out as well.”
Parents have also given the programme the thumbs-up. Majella and Christy McClelland whose son Connor and daughter Natasha took part in the programme said it was great for the youngsters in the area.
“It was a great wee programme for them to be involved. They were all really interested in it and they enjoyed it. At the end of the day they came back every week. Taking the babies home lets them see what the responsibility of having a child is like. It lets them see the realities of being a young parent,” said Majella.
Facilitators Maureen Collins and Aisling Hutton said that the programme has given them an opportunity to build a relationship with young people in the area. And that they hope the legacy of the programme is that it has given the young people the confidence, knowledge and skills to make the right life choices for them. They have been a fantastic bunch of young people to work with. I’m not saying it hasn’t been hard at times because there are different personalities, backgrounds and needs. But to their credit they have successfully completed the programme.
“At the end of the day I don’t expect them to have changed after 12 weeks of a programme but I hope they have gained the ability to make the right choices in life that suits them. And the knowledge that there are agencies out there to support them.”