Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Week 8 Report

Snakes, sex education camp and sport....

The scene: the verandah, outside the girls’ dorm, after rain. Shoes are scattered all over the ground in haphazard lines. Enter Emily.
As I walked towards the door, there was a snake, squirming all over the doorway, trying to get IN TO MY BEDROOM. I jumped up on the seat. I yelled and yelled and yelled. My fear of snakes knows no bounds. Given, it was about 2 feet long and only about 2cm thick, but it was a snake. And it was brown. It squirmed all over our shoes and tried to hide in my sandals and then my friend Luke came running and scared it off with a broom. Since then, we have had a snake get into one of the girl’s bedrooms, hiss and raise its head at someone. We have also had a bug infestation. At night at the beginning of last week, some of us were scared to get up in the middle of the night, for fear that snakes had somehow got into our room... Even now, I look carefully where I step and my eyes sweep a room when I go in. I hate snakes.
Apart from this lovely occasion, I had a great week this week! Another challenging week, as the only farang in a foreign context. However, I think I managed better this time. This week, I was on Sex Education Camp. About 30 kids from a range of different hilltribe villages ranging in age from about 13 – 15 yrs, plus Thai interns, the Anti-Trafficking Project staff and me, travelled to a national park near Mae Sai (border town with Burma) to run a sexual health education camp. The rationale is that there is no standard syllabus for sex ed in schools – and it is up to the discretion of the teacher as to what is taught. Usually kids will learn about menstruation and some basic anatomy, but any further than that – e.g. STDs, condom usage, HIV/AIDS, sexual health.... is generally not taught. I finished a funding proposal regarding sexual health education for the European Commission the week before, so was feeling theoretically prepared for why camp was important. What followed was a range of workshops, covering in specific detail all the kinds of information that we take for granted in PDHPE classes in school in Australia. The kids were wide eyed, paying attention. Workshops were run about anatomy, puberty, diseases, STDs, condoms, contraceptives, and safe and unsafe employment as some forms of employment carry risk of sexual abuse or exploitation.
One workshop was a condom use workshop, and all the kids had to practice opening condom packets (some we surveyed beforehand thought it was ok to open the packets with scissors), and put the condoms on the right way onto specially carved wooden penises and a plastic penis imported from somewhere! What was really excellent was to see the guys helping the girls to do it. And vice versa! One of the guys had to go up the front to demonstrate in front of all the youth, and he couldn’t do it. So a girl got up to help him. I have heard that in Thailand, condom usage doesn’t really get discussed between the sexes, so to see people actually helping one another and talking about condoms seemed to be to be breaking new ground.

All of the workshops were exclusively in Thai, and thus my understanding was extremely limited! While I was there, I watched what happened in the workshops, tried to understand and wrote notes of evaluation to produce an evaluation report, which would also be useful for funding purposes, given this was a pilot project.
One night, we had a drama night, where all the leaders and youth had to produce a drama about a certain topic. The leaders all got together and we performed a drama about a young girl who falls in love, has sex, she gets pregnant, they get married, then the guy leaves her for a farang (myself) and she has to go to work in Bangkok, probably in sex work. It sounds like it is totally unbelievable, but the sad reality is that it does happen here. When people are vulnerable financially especially, sex work presents as appealing, as income can be generated quickly, and a different kind of lifestyle is available rather than physical labour in agriculture. Some of the youth performed dramas about the vulnerability of working in go-go bars, which are similar to pole dancing clubs, with optional prostitution. I was amazed by their insight. In the unsafe/safe employment workshop, forms of employment were openly discussed among the youth that were vulnerable to sexual abuse – including massage parlours, any work at night, housekeeping, go go bars and karaoke. Safe employment discussed included doctor, teacher, nurse, offshore worker. To me, it seemed that there was such a gap – between sexual forms of work, and careers requiring high levels of university education – surely, there is more middle ground... and hopefully, most of these youth will walk that middle ground or higher....

On my return from sex camp, the following two days were a huge carnival here. We had two sports days, with the staff, interns and volunteers all pitted against each other in teams of blue, orange and green. Everyone had to try and find clothes of their team colour, and we painted ourselves with war paint, and wore pipe-cleaners and bandannas in our hair. I was in the blue team, and we were the ones that danced the ‘hippo dance’ the most, to the sound of drums in front of everyone, because we always lost! Games included: three team soccer with all teams against each other all at once with three goals; volleyball, a game like hackeysack but with a ball over a volleyball net; volleyball with water bombs; a game where u had to use every piece of clothing/shoes/string possible your team was wearing to make a line, and a series of relays that involved eating and jumping in the pond of slime and disease. The best game, however, which I played, was playing three-way water polo in the sludge pond, upto our thighs in disgusting water, upto our ankles in slimy mud.
Since returning from sex camp, I also began working on a number of reports: evaluation report of sex camp; overview report of the Anti-Trafficking Project; written summaries of projects and a report on the Mlabri community which will be submitted to a potential funder. The Mlabri report has involved breaking down some of the information from our surveying a few weeks ago, and breaking it into percentages and data, which my inner nerd loved. One interesting fact I found, was that 68% of the Mlabri community we visited was under 20 years old – which is incredible from a development perspective – as it presents a unique window of opportunity to influence the community through education. However, only 23% of eligible students attend high school. 81% of Mlabri families also owed debts to the neighbouring Hmong that need to be repaid.

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