Monday, June 21, 2010


Last night, after a wonderful week of vacations, I was scrambling to prepare for our first ever “Escuela de Padres” in Musho. The title literally means “school for parents” and is usually a time to teach some communication, health and vocation skills to parents. In typical ambitious and foolish fashion, I had volunteered to lead the workshop on teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, and, last night, I was regretting that decision. I’ve never taught sex-education to anyone. Chamblee Charter High School provided me with an apathetic (though entertaining) football coach and an abstinence-only textbook for my own health education. Furthermore, this town is hardly Atlanta; the majority of mothers in attendance had their first child in adolescence. Where would I start? Should I bring a condom and banana for demonstration purposes? Should my PowerPoint include photos of diseased genitals or is that too much?
This morning, with much apprehension, I walked to the high school and comforted myself with the thought that, as bad as things might go, at least I should get a good blog entry out of the experience. Since we were doing the escuela de padres in a round-robin fashion, I gave the workshop 3 times. My first group was all women, mostly known, about 2/3 in traditional pollera and hats, gossiping in quechwa as we settled down. As I began to speak, with a local health professional, I nervously awaited furious blushing and complaints. Nothing. They were a great audience, agreeing about the need for more communication with their teenagers, and, when we got to the condom part, asking why I hadn’t brought any with me to look at (Actually a friend joked that the backpack I always walk around with is probably chock full of condoms. I said, of course, if you want one, please let me know). The next two groups were fine as well—quieter, I think because there were both men and women, but still very respectful and curious. Imagine living into your 40s without having ever received any sex-education.
In my former life, as a liberal college student, I would engage in furious debates about the need for comprehensive sex education in high schools. Now, while I would hardly call my own curriculum abstinence-only (though my backpack is, in reality, not chock-full of condoms and I don’t know if I will go through with my joking-retort to the friend, to come to her house with a banana and a condom to practice), I repeated several times that abstinence was the absolute best thing these parents could teach their kids. Is that wrong or hypocritical? I don’t think there should be a separate standard for US and foreign, 3rd world teenagers, but, as I stressed to these parents, you cannot get pregnant without having sex—as simple as that. Condoms and birth control are valuable and wonderful, but the basic equation is that sex means babies and, to an extent, possible sexually transmitted diseases. In a small town where the idea of yearly check-ups stops at 5 years old (if your mom is dedicated, after all, the free food stops at age 3), any sexually transmitted disease could go undetected until pregnancy. Why risk it?
As someone about to apply for a grant and write a plan of AIDS and pregnancy prevention with the high school and health post for the year, I should be less conflicted about how to go about teaching it. Truly, though, I am ready. My personal opinion is up in the air, but, as I explained to the parents today, the most important thing is information. Worldwide, the most common HIV/STD prevention strategy is “ABC”: A, abstinence, B, be faithful (boda, which means wedding in Spanish), C, condom. Today I added “D: Dar información” or “give information” for the parents. I think regardless of whether I stress abstinence more or less, an informed teenage girl in Musho will see the clear options ahead of her: risky sex, probably in a cornfield, and freezing her life as is, or, a possible future of more education, travel to a city and further work. So I’ll just teach information: cause and effect, and allow reality to teach abstinence. Sorry liberal Kait of one year ago.

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