Ty Miranda, 127
“We want to stop teen mom,” was the first thing that my counterparts said when we were at the counterpart conference during PST last March. I was shocked. I had imagined that talking about sexual reproductive health (SRH) at site would be a delicate subject and here is my future community discussing with me in broken Thai about actively wanting to target it. Seems like a piece of cake right? Wrong.
After a few weeks in my village, I had a meeting with the anime or local health clinic to talk about teen pregnancy. Through a long drawn out conversation with many google translations, I learned that 20% of the female teenagers in my community would get pregnant. According to the CDC, in 2013 the United States had a rate of around 3%. This concerned me and I wanted to start working on this.
My experience with SRH comes from my experience working with college freshmen. I was the one to show up at door steps with condoms, give out pamphlets about birth control options, talk about healthy relationships, and if needed, be the shoulder to cry on after one night stands. This work got me comfortable to talk about sex in a very explicit fashion and made me passionate about the youth health sector.
About a month into site, the anime asked me to develop a SRH camp and to see if the Tessaban would be in support of it. I offered the idea to the ran nayok (vice mayor) and she was on board and even scheduled a date. I created a half-day workshop, specifically designed for girls in our community to talk about female health. I had all the materials ready and had my tessaban repeatedly say that they were on board and that it was going to happen.
On the day of, I was reminded about a valuable component of the Peace Corps mission: community driven projects. Although I had thought everyone was on board, I was the only one who knew the lesson plans and what was going on. Therego, no one showed up and the project crashed and burned. Something PCVs experience a lot, around the world.
At the time, I was really frustrated. I thought I was doing what they wanted me to do. I thought I was doing what I came to Thailand to do. But, again, I was wrong. PCVs come to Thailand because we want to work within our communities to create change and I wasn’t doing this. I designed a project that was rooted in American ideology and ideals. However, during this failed project I learned three valuable tips on creating successful SRH initiatives.
- Find an awesome counterpart
Counterparts are invaluable and absolutely necessary for SRH conversations because at the end of the day, we are still falang (foreigners). I understand that finding a counterpart is difficult because it is a big commitment, but I encourage you to think outside of the box. If you can’t get someone from the anime to work with you, maybe try a local teacher or someone from the SAO/Tessaban. They don’t have to be an expert, just someone willing to sit down with you and work on a small project. If you find someone who is passionate about students and about the community, they will be willing to put in the time. It may take a year or more to find this person, so be patient. Just take a deep breathe and keep looking.
- Get comfortable talking about SRH in Thai
Penis. Vagina. Orgasim. Semen. All these words are just part of talking about SRH, so get comfortable with them. Also learning these words in Thai is really helpful because it’s easier to follow along with SRH activities. For example, here are some key phrases: juu (falling tone: penis), peet sam sam (sex), anime juu luun pan (SRH), gan dtit chua HIV (HIV infection), toong mai prom (teenage pregnancy). The more comfortable you feel talking about it, the more at ease the Thais will feel teaching it. Don’t be worried if you only know the slang versions of vocabulary because it often makes the youth feel more comfortable talking about it.
- Find ways to include SRH in other activities
I found that including SRH in ongoing activities was the best way to gain support from my community. For example, having SRH at Camp Glow was a great way to teach about SRH in a supportive environment. I have also included SRH into anime school visits and into English lessons. Last December, the Peace Corps SRH Committee had a World Aids Day campaign to encourage PCVs to teach about SRH and I shared it with my community. It’s these types of programs that counterparts and students get excited about. Just remember, it’s okay to start slow. There is a reason we are here for two years.
If you have any other concerns, questions, or are looking for support for SRH activities feel free to contact the SRH committee at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can also follow the Peace Corps Gender Equality Initiative on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pcthailandgeneq/?fref=ts for program ideas and upcoming events.