Teaching teens about sex means starting with a laugh

By Kulsoom Khan | May 3, 2019 | Asia | Freedom from Violence & Exploitation, Youth Empowerment

While visiting a GFC partner in Thailand, Regional Director for Asia Kulsoom Khan was in for a surprise – and a lesson on connecting with youth over difficult topics.

“How do teenagers and their parents react when you share information on sexual and reproductive health?”

As I ask this question, P’Pan, Program Director at Khiang Rim Khong, walks over with three huge book binders and places them in front of me. I open the first one, not expecting to find 60 different kinds of condoms pasted on the two pages.

I look up awkwardly from the display of creative condoms and the staff cracks up.

My Pakistani upbringing hasn’t prepared me for this, or the second book: a pop-up, which opens on a magnified drawing of male genitalia. Or the third, which is a magnified drawing of female genitalia.

“This is how we approach the conversation!” says Phuangthong Takan. She’s the founder of Child Rights Protection Center, a GFC partner that incubated Khiang Rim Khong. “We start by joking about sex with the teens, they’re always shy and this breaks the ice!”

Teens respond to a lesson in sexual and reproductive health with Khiang Rim Khong. © Khiang Rim Khong

Child Rights and Protection Center and Khiang Rim Khong work through schools and independent outreach at festivals and markets to share much-needed information on reproductive health and rights. In the quiet, northeastern city of Chiang Khong, where they work, this is a new and often discouraged topic of conversation.

I tell them that in Pakistan, where I grew up, chapters on reproductive health were cut out from the textbooks due to a fear that knowledge would lead to more promiscuity.

Girls learn about different kinds of sanitary pads in an informal lesson. © Khiang Rim Khong

“It’s been the same here,” Phuangthong tells me, “but we see that mindset slowly changing now with the young people. They will find information online, but we want to make sure they’re getting the right information.”

The staff of CRPC and KRK are approachable, friendly, and available to young people that come to them with questions or concerns. In the northeastern states, there are higher rates of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, due to a number of reasons – including the movement of people between the borders and the prevalence of sex tourism, as well as the lack of culturally appropriate knowledge and resources in the remote areas.

CRPC’s consistent presence has created trust among the young people they serve, including migrants and refugees, many of whom are now peer educators and mentors in their communities. They hope to continue creating this ripple effect of knowledge through the multiple stakeholders they work with.

CRPC also works closely in collaboration with Center for Girls, another GFC partner working to empower girls and prevent trafficking in the border region.

The staff are soft-spoken but courageous – to go out and share pamphlets on reproductive health and hand out condoms at festivals in a fairly conservative and quiet corner of the country requires tenacity and courage. They share stories of success, of roadblocks, learning, and growth. They all come to work motivated by personal experiences and a desire to see the world change for their future generations, and it reminds me of how much we all have in common.

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