A talented young learner who advises her peers on sexual health issues has now helped Haringey Councillors to understand the same subject - and left them very impressed with her own commitment and achievements.

Marija Sniukaite, 19, was chosen to attend the Haringey Council 'Scrutiny Review on Sexual Health of Teenagers' because of the work she does here as a Sexual Health Peer Mentor, supported by the vTalent volunteering scheme.

Last week, Marija accompanied the College’s Assistant Director for Learner Information and Support, Jan Dunster, to the council meeting. As Jan explained, “There were more than a dozen people in the room, and these are the people who will make decisions on the Borough’s strategy towards important issues such as pregnancy, contraception and sexually transmitted infections. Marija could easily have been a little overwhelmed, but she gave a great account of herself. The Councillors were clearly interested in her views and impressed with her insight. She shared some of her personal experiences, but she also did a great job of representing the perspective of young people in general on the topics we discussed.”

Marija first came to the College in 2006 as part of our Accelerate programme for 14-16 year olds, and is now combining her voluntary work with an NVQ course in Youth Work. Explaining her role, Marija said: “We’re here so that other young people have someone that they can speak to about sexual health issues who is their own age but also has all the right knowledge and training - to make sure they’re getting accurate information. Lots of people get embarrassed talking about these things, but they know they can speak to me on a certain level – it’s not always so easy to approach a teacher or tutor.” As Maria explained, these are exactly the issues that she was able to discuss with the Councillors at the Scrutiny Review meeting: "They asked me for my own thoughts on how they should be getting messages out to young people and I told them that young people like me being trained to speak to other young people is the best way."

Marija has also completed ‘Speakeasy’ training, funded by Haringey Council, to help her communication skills. She has plenty of new ideas about how to pass on the important messages. “I’ve not just learnt the facts about sexual health, I’ve also learnt how to get them across to my peers,” she said. “We’re planning lots of quizzes and other activities that learners can do in their tutorial time. I think it’s important to make the sessions interactive – it’s no good just standing up and lecturing a class of young people for an hour.”

Janine Thomas, who coordinates the College’s sexual health awareness activities, added: “Marija does very important work at the College, along with her twelve fellow Sexual Health Peer Mentors. They act as a point of first contact for other learners who might have concerns, but who may not want to speak to a tutor or other staff member. Marija is perfectly suited to the role because she has a friendly outlook and a mature, responsible attitude. She is a great ambassador for the College. We also have a dedicated Sexual Health Nurse, so Marija and the other mentors can refer learners who might have been reluctant to speak to the Nurse directly.”

Marija, who received an Excellence Award from the College in 2007, is now setting her sights on permanent employment as a youth worker, but she’s not finished with her education just yet. She explained: “The vTalent programme is perfect for me – I’m getting all of the work experience and responsibility of working at the College, but I’m studying for my NVQ at the same time. Then I want to go on to a Level 3 course next year, and I’d like to go to university eventually.”

Jan has no doubt that Marija will achieve her ambitions. “It’s wonderful for us to see someone who first came to the College at such a young age now doing so well for herself,” she said, “and it goes to show that with the right support and advice, dedicated young people like Marija can always succeed here.”

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