Youth are the solution not the problem!” This slogan sat proudly on the backs of each kid and drew my thoughts for much of the youth camp. A strong call for youth to be active agents for change within their country and communities, and a reciprocal call for the society to intentionally involve youth societal change, planning, and problem solving.
I had the pleasure of spending two days this week teaching a group of 28 local youth in their mid-teens with my director, Violet. Vision for Youth was given two days out of the week long Foundations for Tomorrow Youth Camp to work with the kids on topics of reproductive health, “growing up”, relationships, and decision making. Most of my work in the last couple weeks has been preparing for these presentations and revamping/expounding on V4Y’s existing PowerPoints on these topics.
My expectations were suspended coming into the two days. I am confident in my knowledge and presentation skills but you just never know what you’re walking into in Tanzania.
After the long bumpy ride of the side of when of Mt Meru’s foothills, we reached the stunningly beautiful Cornerstone Leadership Academy where the youth camp was held. Jumping right into the day Violet and I introduced ourselves in the echoing auditorium and drew the youth out of their silence with your standard silly mixer get to know each other games.
The group seemed to primarily be around age 15 to 16 and was mostly girls by about 2:1. Though they are Tanzanian they are still just teens: talkative yet shy, fidgety, curious, spanning various stages of growth and maturity, and ever worrying about their phones charging over in the corner.
The first day we discussed the changes bodies go through during puberty, the anatomy and physiology of the male and female reproductive systems (diagrams included!), menstruation, pregnancy, and reproductive health rights. Though there we used PowerPoints and did a lot of presenting we also walked through scenarios, did group work, and encouraged the youth to share their own experiences. These topics felt right up my alley and it felt good to have an eager audience. Violet and I fielded so many questions, shouted, whispered, and written, that we had to skip two whole additional topics for lack of time.
This is what I came to Tanzania for.
I love seeing how attentive, excited, and overwhelmed with questions teens get when you open the door to honest discussion about bodies and sexuality. This is not my first experience with a room full of teens asking me questions that would make most people flinch. I love it. When a kid asks you a question about menstruation or pregnancy or sex you know they are intensely interested in hearing the answer. It is very clear that it becomes my responsibility to make sure they receive the most factual unbiased answer that empowers them with to make difficult decisions regarding their own health and wellbeing.
The second day was similar though our topics focused more on relationships and communication. We talked about and had activities that communicate what makes a positive relationship, how men and women interact, peer pressure, and gender roles. Though once again the onslaught of questions relating to the previous days lessons concluded our time with still so much Violet and I had hoped to cover.
I really enjoyed interacting with the group even when their teen energy, distractibility, and the room’s acoustic amplification of their fidgeting brought me to teeth clenching frustration. It was a challenging and exhausting experience. I never thought I’d actually think back to how much my nursing school lessons that emphasized the need to assess learning barriers. These youth are eager to learn and their English was decent, but many times their thirst for answers led to Violet attempting translations of language and culture so each point could be made with as much clarity as possible.
It’s profoundly humbling to see significant learning barriers stand between youth and the information they need to be successful. Sometimes its language or cultural norms, sometimes is the law (like the one that states we are not allow to explicitly teach Tanzanian youth under 18yrs about contraceptives). Sometimes is the environment: not enough chairs or a big loud room. Sometimes its a lack of resources: background knowledge, breakfast, or a notebook to write in. It’s humbling to see these barriers affecting the youth before you and feeling like there is so little in the moment to teach in a way that maneuvers around those barriers or even lift them completely.
Overall, the experience was very positive. Many of their questions were answered and they still had smiles and energy after two long days of throwing so much information at them. These are the type of kids who will make change in their communities, especially if they’re given the chance.