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Adolescent Project Helps Nigerian Teenage Girls - 2001-09-04

When fifteen-year-old Nimi Charles became pregnant at the age of 13, her parents threw her out. Nimi has been rehabilitated by The Adolescent Project or TAP. She took part in the group's computer education program and now works as a computer operator.

Another teenager, who asked for anonymity, thanks the Adolescent Project for rescuing her from drug addiction. She has been trained in chemical technology and now works in an oil servicing company.

In Nigeria's Niger Delta, a private non-governmental organization called the Adolescent Project is helping rehabilitate teenage girls who have been kicked out of their homes. Some are pregnant and others suffer from drug abuse and other problems. The project offers pre-natal counseling, job training, and democracy education - all part of its effort to help young people stand on their own.

The adolescent project was set up two years ago by the wife of the governor of Rivers State, Justice Mary Odili. The executive secretary of the group, Elsie Thompson, explains its goals: "The adolescent project, TAP Nigeria, is a non-governmental, not-for-profit organization, it's two years old and the main focus of TPA is to morally and socially re-orientate adolescents in our society, while we are doing that, we hope to inculcate leadership skills, responsible citizenship skills as well." Mrs. Thompson says the organization focuses on girls from 13 to 19 years of age. She says teenagers benefit from life planning education, skills acquisition, computer education, chemical technology, handcraft, creative arts and democracy education.

Mrs. Thompson says TAP'S work has gained international recognition. "The Adolescent Project won the second white Ribbon Alliance contest for Safe Motherhood in Washington, DC. It was organized by the Global Health Council. We won the award through our efforts with adolescents because we felt that that's a group where you have large amount of teenage pregnancies, teenage mothers who are not taken care of. So we had to campaign through the length and breadth of Rivers State to get some recognition for them."

TAP uses a media campaign to find troubled teen-age girls in and round the Port Harcourt area. It has many offices in rural areas staffed by volunteers.

Mrs. Thompson says as a result of TAP's campaign, the Rivers State government has introduced free pre-natal care for pregnant adolescent girls and free caesarian operations to all mothers in government hospitals. But critics of the organization say it has not done enough to rehabilitate teenage girls. The critics say TAP has not made an impact on rural areas.

Mrs. Thompson disagrees, insisting that the organization is doing its best. "I want to say that TPA alone cannot handle the problems of adolescents, but I think we've done a lot," she says. "First, we have raised the consciousness of the citizenry to the needs of the adolescents who are abandoned and adolescent issues are now being focused on. There are several NGOs now coming up. TAP has adopted a holistic approach to the adolescent, so we tackle reproductive health, leadership training, democracy training, and skills acquisition. We look at the adolescent as a person and work around the adolescent." Mrs. Thompson says her organization is building an integrated adolescent development centre where it will be able to work with adolescents.

She says a number of international organizations have indicated their willingness to work with her organization including USAID and the NGO called the Centre for Development and Population, which is based in Washington, DC, and focuses on problems facing women, including spousal abuse, under-representation in politics and unemployment.