FIFTY-FOUR students from the Western Division underwent peer education training from September 19-22.
Education officer NSAAC (National Substance Abuse Advisory Council), Talica Malani said the 54 were exemplary leaders from their nine respective schools and had been selected by their principals.
She said peer education was "a strategy, tool, or communication channel used by people who share similar ages, backgrounds and interests to communicate messages.
It has been used as an approach in behaviour change communication components of pregnancy, STI and HIV prevention program for youths". Mrs Malani said the training is an established NSAAC program, funded by the UN Women Pacific Fund and was first run in 2007.
She said more than 600 students (150 per year) had gone through the program with past sessions being held in Suva, Labasa and the latest was in Lautoka.
The focus next year will be schools in the east or maritime provinces.
While rapid changes; technologically, socially, economically and physically have positive impacts, Mrs Malani says their are also negative influences that change the way they behave, act and talk.
It is therefore prudent that students "go through these training to know of the challenges they face and to be mindful of the choices they make that with it comes its consequences".
She said youths found it easier to share with their peers or their friends whatever they faced or seek from them information they lacked rather than adults or their parents.
Mrs Malani said this was because of taboo or fear of being ridiculed or punished.
On the gains from the program, she said: "In this peer education program, we trained students to go back to their schools, their communities and their families and to fill in the gaps where adults and parents are lacking in, which is to provide accurate and correct information to their peers. ... they will share with their friends, families and even in their communities what they have learnt on drugs and substance abuse, violence against girls and women, puberty and adolescence, sexuality and gender, self esteem, values and decision making, mental health topics such as stress management, HIV AIDS and STIs, teenage pregnancy and child abuse in all forms."
She said NSAAC felt there should be more collaboration from all stakeholders; the police, Ministry of Health, NGOs, religious organisations, communities and the families to ensure that those issues were raised clearly, proactively and dealth with effectively.
The 54 were from Ba Muslim College, Lautoka Central College, Kamil Muslim College, Natabua High School, Ba Methodist High School, Xavier College, Nadi College, Drasa Secondary School and Jasper Williams High School.