The Body, Mind and Spirit Foundation, together with the Saba University School of Medicine (SUSOM), held Responsible Students Peer Education Curriculum and Training RESPECT programme workshops at the Saba Comprehensive School (SCS) in St. John’s on Monday. This writes The Daily Herald. The flagship RESPECT programme was implemented in 2005. Medical student volunteers implement interactive interventions that target the youths’ behavioural change with regard to sexual risks whilst promoting protective factors. The workshops are designed to build life skills and increase knowledge about reproductive health amongst Saba’s youths. They promote healthy attitudes and empower teenagers to make informed decisions that can substantially reduce their lifelong risks for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Monday’s workshops addressed the relationship between violence and alcohol or drug use, body image and permissive values about premarital sex, early teenage pregnancy prevention, abstinence, condom or contraceptive use and childbearing.
More than 50 medical students prepared presentations and interactive games. SCS students were placed in six classes of mixed ages, 13 to 18, while medical students rotated so each participant received all presentations. The medical students presented information on the risks associated with having unprotected sex, of having multiple partners and not using birth control. They highlighted associated risks based on self-image, depression, substance use and peers’ norms on sexuality. These topics led to discussions about the life-altering impact of STIs and unplanned pregnancies. Using simple words, the students explained the symptoms, testing and treatment of each STI, answering students’ concerns about testing confidentiality.
The talk about Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and getting timely screenings raised more interest with some uncertainty about actual local implementation of vaccination and screening practices. The youths played STIrelated card games to help understand the increased likelihood of the spread of infections and the basis for the promotion of abstinence and monogamous relationships. The presenters developed creative messages about the actual cost of unplanned pregnancies. They stressed that childbearing is not “a way out” for girls who aren’t doing well in school or have social difficulties and want an independent social status as single mothers in the community. Instead, the students pointed out the higher financial burdens on single mothers to support the baby whilst being paid little without higher-education diplomas. The youths discussed that whilst abortions are legal in the Netherlands, they are not done on Saba and are illegal on St. Maarten, making it difficult to receive the proper support. They also discussed confidentiality challenges when girls are sent to Bonaire to have procedures covered by the Dutch insurance. The stigma associated with going there is a deterrent pushing for illegal or secretive abortions done in French St. Martin. The medical students also pointed to serious medical risks associated with labour complications in teenage mothers, and covered all types of birth control options available and their effectiveness, including proper condom use, informing about their availability in Saba.
The workshops on violence and respect were connected to discussions on self-esteem, empathy and anger management. Interactive games involved identifying bullying, motivating action from bystanders and nurturing a supportive environment, as well as teaching conflict resolution skills.
The alcohol abuse session covered risks associated with teenage abuse as well as engagement in unprotected sex. It also outlined immediate and long-term medical symptoms, and social consequences.
The drug abuse discussions about side effects led to some of the youths’ frank accounts about actual use of marijuana, as well as remarks about depression. Many youngsters proved quite aware about lacking harm reduction services and the limited options for dealing with addictions.