This is the second post in a series by PPSAT Health Educator Malinda, who traveled last month to Guatemala as a 2018 Planned Parenthood Global Youth Ambassador (GYA).
I fell in love with Guatemala during my time as a GYA. I still miss its vibrantly colored houses and textiles, delicious breakfasts of tortillas, beans, eggs, and avocado (and the best coffee!), impressive volcanoes rivaled by Guatemala’s ancient Mayan ruins, and the noisy little tuc tuc cars and breezy lanchas (small boats) that zipped me from place to place. But the best part, without a doubt, was spending time with Planned Parenthood’s global partner, Tan Ux’il, a truly awesome youth-based non-profit in Guatemala.
Tan Ux’il, which in Maya Itza’ language translates to “we are growing,” promotes access to comprehensive sexuality education through the organizing of youth “promotores”, a leadership role very similar to the peer educators that graduate from PPSAT’s Teen Connections program.
“I like being able to learn new information and for my friends to come to me for help,” said Guillermo, one of the promotores I met. He reminded me of many of my teen students back home.
Tan Ux’il works in rural communities, where access to sexual health education, health services, and contraception is limited due to geographic, linguistic, and economic barriers. The promotores are making a big impact when it comes to reducing teenage pregnancy and STD rates by being trained to provide not only information, but also birth control methods to their peers, such as the pill, the ring, the shot, emergency contraception, and, of course, condoms. Tan Ux’il’s program is a successful example of the Youth Peer Providers, an initiative which Planned Parenthood Global assists local organizations in focus countries to implement in their communities through support, technical assistance, and training.
Working in a difficult political climate (Guatemala’s conservative president opposes abortion and LGBTQ+ rights among other things...sound familiar?) as well as the continued after effects of the country’s 36-year-long civil war that ended in 1996, are among the many challenges Tan Ux’il faces. Economic hardship, lack of education and resources, and violence are daily struggles for many young people in Guatemala. Large numbers of youth emigrate to the United States each year, including some of Tan Ux’il’s own promotores whom have no other option.
Despite these challenges, Tan Ux’il works tirelessly to reach youth in unique and creative ways. Through interactive sex ed games and competitions, their Invading Your Recess program allows them to bring sexual health education to schools in-between classes. Tan Ux’il also has an amazing social media presence and makes YouTube videos to get their message out to young people. Most impressive is their radio program, Código Cero (“Code Zero”, the goal to have zero unplanned pregnancies and STD rates). Made up of promotores alumni, the Código Cero staff make talking about sex-ed topics on the air look effortless (I was definitely nervous my first time on their show!), but the truth is that being a part of Tan Ux’il helped them to find their voice.
Said radio staff Greis Mendoza, “Before, I wouldn’t call out someone if they made a gendered comment, like about the color pink, for instance. But now I’ve learned how to speak up and I’m not afraid to share my opinion on these things anymore.” Likewise, the radio coordinator Yoni Guzmán told me that he didn’t have any prior training in radio, but that it had always been his dream to work for Tan Ux’il ever since he became a youth promotor. His enthusiasm and desire to learn helped him to popularize Código Cero, and gain the program national recognition. Always putting youth at the heart of the program, Yoni keeps the radio show relevant each year by choosing topics teens in his community suggest to him.
Most of what I learned from Tan Ux’il happened in the day-to-day conversations and the experiences we shared. Dancing with Tan Ux’il were among the most memorable moments, and I am grateful for the ways in which they impacted and became a part of my So You Think You Consent? dance project. When I first arrived to the Tan Ux’il office and explained my project, I was surprised to find that the word “consent” or “consentimiento” was not as much of a buzzword as it is here in the United States. Many of the formalized verbal concepts of affirmative consent that I covered in my previous blog post were less familiar to Tan Ux’il staff than I had expected. This was an exciting turn of events for my project, because while I had imagined dance as a supplemental tool for understanding consent, I now had the opportunity to use it as as the entryway, the introduction - and it worked! Between bachata steps we discussed what consent looks, sounds, and feels like, how to be attentive and communicate with a partner, the importance of listening, as well as the challenges of consent in real life - even on the dance floor itself.
Traveling to Guatemala impacted my perspective as a sexuality educator in ways I never could have imagined, and I come back home re-energized after the time I shared with Tan Ux’il. The solidarity I feel with my fellow educators across the globe gives me hope for the future. Whether through dance or radio, we are all helping to build the healthiest generation of youth.