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Success Stories

JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc. successfully implemented the Together for Health for the U.S. Agency for International Development from 2005 to 2011. For further information on project activites, visit the TfH page on

Sustainable Sex Education for Orphaned Youth

Olexander Polyansky (second from right) leads group of young people in ice breaker activities during a Rainbow of Life workshop
Olexander Polyansky (second from right) leads group of young people in ice breaker activities during a Rainbow of Life workshop.

March 2008 - As a social worker in the Kharkiv health department, Irina Mashtal spent a great deal of time talking about reproductive health issues with youth. But while working in a region with one of the largest populations of orphaned youth in Ukraine, Mashtal and her colleagues recognized that the specific needs of this group were unmet. Many children growing up in orphanages face challenges beyond the normal trials of entering adolescence, and Mashtal and her coworkers wanted to use their expertise as social workers to address the root of the difficulties orphans are facing.

When the Kharkiv Health Department decided to place special emphasis on providing comprehensive sex education for orphaned youth, Mashtal saw an opportunity for a new initiative. She and Olexander Polyansky founded Rainbow of Life, an NGO dedicated to ensuring that young people living in orphanages receive comprehensive and appropriate sexual health education.

A Rainbow of Life workshop participant in front of artwork by orphans.
A Rainbow of Life workshop participant in front of artwork by orphans.

Rainbow of Life began in May 2007 with a grant from the USAID-funded Together for Health project. Working in teams at special summer camps for orphans, the organization conducted six workshops for more than 120 young people. The 8-hour sessions, with co-ed groups of varying ages, were interactive and made use of role playing, drawing, and games. The group discussed issues of love, friendship, health, communication, sexuality, contraception, pregnancy, and HIV and AIDS, says Mashtal.

The teams treat the young people as independent, responsible adults, and the youth respond readily, seizing the opportunity to express their own ideas about issues that are important to them, says Polyansky.

Rainbow of Life staff wrote the curriculum based on the JSI-managed Together for Health project's family planning, relationship, and decisionmaking teaching materials. They also used their own experience working in orphanages to tailor the information to their audience.

Групова робота учасників тренінгу
Youth working in a Rainbow of Life workshop.

"Many young people living in orphanages have difficulty understanding decisionmaking in relationships and family planning because they have very different concepts of what a family is," says Polyansky. Thus, the group added special emphasis in their curriculum around communication skills, building successful relationships, and accomplishing goals.

As the group continued to work, they realized that they were only scraping the surface of the issue. There are more than 6,000 young people living in orphanages in Kharkiv, and in spite of their efforts, logistically it was impossible to reach them all. They realized that the best way to reach more young people would be to train teachers at orphanages to teach sex education themselves.

Recognizing that many teachers—despite working in orphanages—had difficulty addressing the special emotional and psychological needs of orphans, Mashtal instructed teachers how to counsel orphaned youth on issues of health and sexuality. The organizers drew on their own experience as teachers to address the specific needs of educators, since they work in an environment that requires more than just academic attention.

Since May 2007, Rainbow of Life has conducted three 3-day trainings and has worked with more than 100 teachers. It plans to conduct two more trainings in the future. The hope is that such trainings will make their efforts more sustainable and long-lasting, as they disseminate their expertise to individuals who can make a difference.

Rainbow of Life is now fundraising to support its work well into the future. So far, it has won two grants from the Kharkiv city council and it is awaiting word on grants from the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Family, Youth and Sports as well as from several international funds.

In the future, Rainbow of Life has plans to delve more deeply into the methodology of teaching sex education to boys and the pedagogy of working with young people with mental illnesses. The long-term vision and sustainability of this organization can serve as a helpful model to NGOs in other regions as they work to effect change in their own communities.

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