Imagine you are a 14-year-old girl from a remote village. You live in extreme poverty, but you have desires to continue studying. Your parents do not have the money and do not put importance in studying. So you stop school at 6th grade. A young man comes to your parents, asking to take you as his “wife”. Your parents were “married” young and have 12 children. This is normal to them, so they agree. Your parents did not receive sexual health education, so neither do you. You didn’t want to become pregnant at 14, but the same as your mom, here you are expecting your first child at age 14.
This is a true story of a young woman from one of the communities we work with. It happens way too often.
Having one life affected like this is devastating, but there are many teens who have been affected. It has been alarming seeing the numbers of teen pregnancy increase in the health posts that we run. In all of Guatemala, there have been 77,847 pregnancies in young women aged 10-19. Since January of this year (according to OSAR, the Reproductive Health Observatory of Guatemala). 8,559 were in our department of Alta Verapaz. This is the second highest rate of all the departments in Guatemala.
An unplanned teen pregnancy cuts short education, hopes, dreams, and plans for a better future. They quickly have to take on adult responsibilities of being a mother or father, without having the maturity to do so. The momentum that they could have had in their life is stopped.
Sexual and reproductive health education is vital! These young lives deserve to move forward toward their God-given potential!
One hundred ninety youth, aged 12-18, took part in the education sessions, which occurred at schools that serve 10 rural Pokomchí communities. It is education that is not taught in their churches, schools, or in their homes. A teacher who assisted us expressed his gratitude for the education and explained the difficulties he faces:
“Thank you for coming alongside us in this education. It is very important that students are educated in this. As teachers we run into barriers in teaching this topic. There are two factors that prevent us from teaching about sexual health. The first is religion. Sometimes those in leadership in the church, such as pastors, don’t encourage youth to talk about this and ask questions, so the youth don’t. It is seen as something prohibited to talk about. But this is something that should begin to be talked about as a child grows up.
The second factor is culture. Many parents are okay with their daughter becoming pregnant as teens. Here we have seen many cases of young women abandoning their studies. They don’t finish grade 6. They get married and start a family. Parents prefer that they do this, rather than continuing their education and preparing for their future well-being and development. For these reasons it is very difficult for us as teachers to be able to teach this. We thank you for the support in sharing this topic. As teachers, we have seen an increase of pregnant young women, 12 years and older.
I hope this isn’t the only time that you come alongside us in sharing this education with young people from rural areas.”
The school and community leaders allowed us to teach this topic for 2 main reasons – we are health professionals and, over the years, we have built a relationship of trust with the communities. Conzuelo and Glenda attended a 3-month online course about this topic. This prepared them well to teach the students. Nurses Alicia and Miguel took part as well. The 3-hour sessions first evaluated what the students knew about sexuality, gender, and the reproductive system. Their knowledge level was low. The students knew that a woman could end up pregnant after unprotected sex, but not much else. The young men knew more about preventing a pregnancy then the women. This low knowledge level was expected and the education was tailored to this.
Following are the themes that the youth learned:
- The changes men and women go through in puberty
- The male and female reproductive systems
- The Biblical view of sex, only within marriage, was emphasized
- To first think and take care of themselves before having sex
- Encouraged to think about what they want to accomplish in their lives and make a life plan; to continue in their studies and prepare for their future instead of starting a family without any plan
- Sexually transmitted diseases and prevention of this
- Contraceptive methods available to them, how to use them, and the effectiveness of each method
- The social, emotional, and physical effects of having a pregnancy as a teen
- Encouraged to continue learning about sexual and reproductive health, to talk with someone they trust about this, and decide to have control over their sexual health, to think before acting.
The students were at first embarrassed and shy, but as time passed, they were more talkative. In time we hope to see them put into action what they learned with the result of fewer teen pregnancies.
The students expressed their gratitude for the education. One young girl said, “Thank you very much for bringing this education to us. We live in rural villages and they don’t talk to us so openly about this topic. Thank you for teaching us about the need to take care of our bodies, especially in not getting pregnant at this age.”
We thank you for your support in making this crucial education possible. It was a success!