Last week, we hosted another team of brilliant student nurses from Nurse Uganda. They spent the week volunteering with us in Kampala and running vital health promotion sessions for children in numerous communities that we are working in. They taught hand washing, malaria prevention, tooth brushing, road safety and many other important topics to help children keep safe and healthy. One of the team of nurses, Moeen, delivered vital sexual health education to our teenagers, and has written this blog post which explains more about his experiences of this with KCK…
"This week we have been delivering health promotion presentations to young people in schools and communities associated with the charity Kids Club Kampala. My personal subject area is sexual health which I knew would be challenging to deliver, particularly within a conservative Ugandan culture.
When I presented my preparation to the charity panel to screen the content, it received mixed views. I had given the approach that sex is a normal, natural act and is part of life and should be enjoyed however one should be protected and cautious with it. Being a Christian charity, some of the panel disagreed with this – sex should be promoted within marriage alone and protection should only be used as a last resort, or once a couple have had children. Indeed, the most promoted method of contraception in Uganda is abstinence. However others raised the view that although this was the ideal, the reality was very different and there was no benefit in ignoring this. Some mentioned in certain communities, children share the same living and sleeping spaces as their parents and witness sex regularly. Based on this children simulate a ‘mum/dad’ role and engage in sexual activity from a very young age. Other children fall victim to sexual abuse and non-consensual sex. This was all discussed in view of the topical debate concerning the government introduction of compulsory sex education into primary and secondary schools. In contrast to this, the Ugandan National Teachers Union (UNATU) have recently reported they will not teach sex education in schools as it will lead to sexual immorality in Uganda. As I delivered some of my presentations in slum communities this week, some teenage girls approaching university age were quite clearly pregnant or already nursing their own newborns. Somehow demonstrating how to use a condom and protect oneself from STIs and unwanted pregnancy seemed to fall a little flat amongst this audience.
Despite concerns, the charity felt my presentation content was relevant and useful and that I should go ahead and deliver as I had planned. I separated my content into three sections – puberty, contraception/prevention of STIs/HIV/unwanted pregnancy and thirdly, the right to consent to sex.
The third section appeared to resonate with students as I emphasised the right to consent to sex and being able to say ‘no’. Support networks were identified and children were encouraged to speak out should they feel that they or others were mistreated either sexually or in other ways. It is highly apparent that more discussion and education is needed in this area, with gender roles and stereotypes to be broken down and understood.
Mostly, the children I worked with seemed to enjoy and find the content and activities I delivered useful. The expected giggles and nervousness was present at points such as discussing menstruation or when I demonstrated the use of a condom on a banana. It was clear from some of the questions asked that there was an uncertainty in this area that needed to be addressed.
What I’ve taken most from this week is that although this is all set within a conservative, religious culture where sex is a huge taboo, it is very similar state of affair in the U.K. In an age of sexting, social media and pornography, children can be easily exposed to situations where they may not be appropriately prepared. Recently I had a discussion with some nurses who thought that sex education for children was almost perverse. Yet it was the same nurses earlier in the day who had cooed over ‘handsome’ babies who would one day break hearts. Although seemingly innocent, it labels and links to sexuality.
The Netherlands report some of the lowest rates of teenage pregnancy in the world as well as low rates of STIs and they start sex education as young as four. The common misconception here is that sex education comprises solely on reproductive health. It includes healthy friendships and relationships, gender differences and respect and openness for sexual preference and choice which are just as, if not more important.
I believe children have the right and deserve to receive frank and open information about sex, especially in exposed and fast changing world. To normalise something that is natural seems an absurd statement, yet this is the case. Providing this education in Uganda has sparked an interest that I intend to explore further to benefit my own society also." - Moeen