Adolescent Empowerment programme

Marginalised adolescents in developing countries have little say and few opportunities to make decisions for themselves and their own future, which leads to exclusion and other socio-economic and health challenges.

Poverty leads many families to make decisions that negatively affect their children, such as giving low priority to education and letting them drop out of school to earn wages, or giving them away as child brides, which all lead to abuse and exploitation.

Our Adolescent Empowerment Programme provides life skills training and equips the young with the tools they need to take ownership of their 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.

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

Our Adolescent Empowerment programme, "Shonglap", started in Bangladesh in 2006 and the impressive results continued the programme to other countries in the Asia Region - Nepal and Myanmar, where it is called "Samvad" and "Sagar Wine". It was also adopted to East Africa, where it is called "Bonga", and to West Africa where it is called “Tamadash”. It all means "dialogue" in the local language.

All the courses are based on the same principle, with a dialogue-based approach inspired by the teaching method of the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, "The pedagogy of the oppressed".


The Shonglap or Adolescent Empowerment programme of Bangladesh helps poor adolescents to understand their rights and to make them critically aware of their roles in society and to be economically productive.

Shonglap specifically ensures the youth to access Life skills education and opportunities to gain occupational skills.

It provides higher level dignity to the youth with improved access to enjoy their legitimate rights and entitlements in a safe environment. Improving their livelihoods through Life skills and occupational training engages them in income generating activities (IGA) and helps the youth to draw a regular income.

The target group is 11-19-year-old adolescent girls who are either dropped out of schools or school going, but marginalized due to their economic status, ethnicity and tribal identity or living in climate-affected, hard-to-reach areas in rural Bangladesh.


Samvad enrolls adolescents from marginalized ethnic minorities such as Dalits and Badi communities whose traditional incomes are limited to occupations such as stone breaking, traditional musical instrument making, and are landless and have incomes that last for half a year.

The networks work to improve disadvantaged community access to quality education, and are empowered to fight against injustice, social taboos, and culturally deep-rooted malpractices.

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.


Samvad group of girls from Nepal and their animator standing in line in front of the Samvad centre.

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.