I mentioned this in a previous post, but after my last trip to Vila it bears repeating. I talk about sex a lot. I’m pretty knowledgeable about the mechanics and the plumbing and I’m good at not being embarrassed, so it comes pretty easily to me. It came in useful on my last trip to Vila.
I went to Vila for a meeting. On Wednesday evening, a big group of us went out to kava. All work gets done over kava in this country. I went to hang with a bunch of other PCVs and one of them had brought her co-workers as well. She works in the office of another organization called Save the Children Australia(SCA). After a few shells, one of her co-workers comes and sits down next to me and asks if we can talk work. We’re at the nakamal, where better to discuss work?
By the end of a rather long conversation, I agreed to run one day of a five day workshop focused on sexual and reproductive health and outreach techniques. I was doing the plumbing and baby-blocking day. I had a nine days to prepare.
I called my dad. Naturally, when one wants to talk about sex, one should call one’s father. My life is normal. He proved incredibly helpful after all, he’s an ob/gyn. He’s also good at talking about sex.
After a week of silence from SCA, I was starting to freak out. I hadn’t heard if my lesson plans were approved, I didn’t have the supplies I needed to make my flip charts, I hadn’t printed out my handouts and I didn’t know where to get things like condoms. Luckily, I got ahold of them on Wednesday afternoon and went to their office. I was printing and collating until 9pm, but I got it done. I spent all of Thursday morning drawing diagrams of uteruses (uteri?) and penises.
The workshop started like every workshop I’ve done here does, which is to say, an hour late. We had transport issues. Normal, for Vanuatu. I wasn’t even concerned about it at an hour, I would have started getting nervous at 2.
The people I was teaching were all involved with the outreach program. They in some way support or work as outreach to talk about sex, HIV/AIDS, family planning and STIs. Their education ranged from finishing tenth grade (not necessarily passing) to 4 nurses and a couple of Master’s degrees. Their ages varied from about 20 up through late 50s. They did awesome.
It was a pleasure to work with people who were engaged, eager to learn and not full of shame. Shame is a big deal here. Shame about things like sex is a huge issue. When I talk to teenagers, I have to deal with them literally hiding behind their friends, collapsing into giggles and putting their face in their friend’s lap to hide or just laughing so hard I can’t teach. That’s when they manage to overcome their shame enough to even show up.
There was only once in the entire day I said something that made someone hide. I was talking about anal sex, so I guess a little bit of nervous tittering is ok, most people in the States would have done that, too.
We started the day with naming parts. We started with calling out all the slang names for breasts, penis and vagina/vulva. Then I put name tags on everyone’s back with a word on it. They had to go around asking yes or no questions to find out what body part they were. By the end of those, no one had much shame left.
Even though I’ve done a lot of sex ed, I still struggle with impostor syndrome. I found myself standing in the front of a room asking myself why I was doing this. Aren’t there more qualified people to teach this stuff? But really, with the way I’ve been running my workshops, it isn’t about being qualified in knowing every bit of information and factoid about birth control, its about knowing how to elicit that information from within the group. It wasn’t me telling the group about birth control, it was them explaining different methods to each other. I feel like that is a more effective form of learning. Or I’m just excusing my impostor syndrome and lack of knowledge. I hope its the first one.