How do you get 150 8th graders per classroom to pay attention during the last month of school in Ramadan season while everyone is dry fasting from sun up to sun down??? You guessed it! Talk about sex, of course! I've never taught sex ed before, let alone sex ed in Mozambique in Portuguese to a population where HIV/AIDS is at the top of the list of problems plaguing the country. Its been kind of funny at times, shocking at times, and all-around frustrating. First problem: few resources...so I had to draw huge diagrams of the male and female reproductive systems on rice sacks to hang in the classroom.
I started out with male and female anatomy and moved on to fertilization, good decision-making skills, family planning, and HIV. The first day I walked into the classroom and hung the giant penis on the board thinking it wouldn't be that big of a deal (since statistically, many of them are already very sexually active). I tried my hardest not to laugh as 75 8th grade girls screamed and 75 8th grade boys laughed, cheered, clapped yelling out "Professora...biggie, biggie, biggie!!!" Roudy start, but things eventually calmed down. I was rather impressed, in fact, by their relative control. If I was a Mozambican 8th grader sitting in a classroom with a funny white lady in front talking about big penises and vaginas on the board in a funny accent, I'm not sure I could keep myself under control.
So sex is sometimes a tough/complicated/sensitive topic to teach within your own set of people, and here it's even harder with cultural and linguistic issues and differences. To give a few examples of cultural differences: fidelity (what it means and how it is practiced), people's attitudes about/motives for having sex, what is/is not sexualized, and the complexities of biological and emotional involvement surrounding sex. And then there's my personal beliefs. I certainly have beliefs that make my perspective on relationships a minority here. So what do I do with my beliefs or how do I present information to a group of students who believe very different things. Epa! So much to think about. I definitely have a ton more respect for my fellow health PCVs who have to tackle these issues on a day to day basis.
Anyway...after the initial discomfort/goofiness passed, my kids started asking a million questions. Some of my 15 year olds--15 year olds!-- were honestly asking why men don't get pregnant and other questions that shocked me considering how sexually active the population seems to be at a much younger age. I found that many of my students who openly expressed, in one way or another, that they had already become sexually active (either by requesting condoms for themselves or asking questions that indicated experience) did not even understand the basic physiological process or anatomical structure of their own body. What a scary situation to have a very uneducated population engaging in an activity they don't fully understand. It has become obvious to me how the lack of education contributes to the prevelence of HIV. I also wanted to scream as my kids asked questions about many of the sexual myths that are so engrained here like...if a person does not have sex on a regular basis they will go mentally insane or if a woman does not have enough sex, her vagina will permanently rot or if a man does not release sperm frequently enough, he will blow up like a balloon and ruin his chances of having children in the future. When I asked my students where they heard this stuff, they often responded that other teachers had told them these things. I was extremely frustrated to find out that my female students are being influenced in this way by my colleagues, considering inappropriate relationships between teachers and students are not uncommon. On a more positive note, I was relieved and excited to see that many of my students seemed to trust me and believe the things I tried to teach them. Many of them commented that no one had ever explained all the embarrassing stuff or responded to question after question. I havn't quite made it yet to the end of the unit, but so far its been quite the experience personally and professionally.