Educar es luchar (to educate is to fight) is the slogan for the fight against AIDS and HIV here in Peace Corps Panama. Panamá has one of the fastest growing infections rates of AIDS in Latin America. Peace Corps Panama received PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief, a Pres. Bush II project of about $15B I think) funds to run educational programs about AIDS/HIV and uses it to award grants of up to $1000 per Peace Corps Volunteer to do programs in their local community.
Kevin and I partnered to put on a Health Fair in our community. Three Panamanian agencies came out to participate in the teaching of charlas (lessons), and the assistent at our local health post on the island gave on charla and supplied materials for two others, an inspiring measure of local support. We also put out an open call to our fellow PCVs for their help (hey this was a great chance for them to visit like they have said they wanted to do for over a year!).
We invited, via a Radio Veraguas announcement, people from all over the Gulf of Montijo. We also went visiting house to house with invitations for our community members. Three communities attended...including attendance from every part of our island community. Actual registered attendance was 118 adults and children...but we know that there were a handful of participants or "window lurkers" who did not sign in.
Laura and Emily working at the sign in table.
The event was held at the school, with the permission of MEDUCA (the national education agency). When participants arrived they signed in and received a slip of paper with their number repeated on the slip 7 times to use in the tumbolas (raffle drawings).
The table of classes offered.
Participants then went to pick a charla to attend. There were four classrooms each with a different lesson going on every hour. Each lesson was given twice so there were two opportunities to go to it. Participants could choose to attend any lesson offered at the moment. Lessons included:
- HIV/AIDS info
- Women's health
- The importance of vaccinations for the family
- First Aid in the house
- Disaster response
- Domestic violence
- The Risks of Alcohol
- The Risks of early pregancy
- Family Planning
- Dental Health
The idea was to offer a variety of themes while maintaining a strong focus on issues related to sexual health. We wanted to encourage participants to focus more on their own sexual health and to be more comfortable dealing with these topics. Building personal comfort is a move towards eliminating the aura of avoidance and secracy that abounds with sexual topics and provides opportunity for the continued spread of AIDS.
The classes had hands on activities where possible. Above the participants are praciticing reading nutricion labels with the help of Stephanie. One of the most popular demonstrations and practice activities of the day was condom use...on an unripe banana.
Teri teaching women's health. She taught about breast self exams, pap smear tests, and other sexual health topics.
Jim and Robby show an example of a menstral cycle and how it relates to fertility.
Robby and Jim took on the teaching of Family Planning. Their interest and willingness to teach this subject helps women to know that men can be knowlegeable and involved in the family planning process. Family planning was a popular class, and the cooks for the day planned specifically to be available to go to this class.
April teaching how to brush your teeth with her helpers ready to demonstrate.
I taught dental health and had a couple of kids come to both sessions even though they knew it was the same class. We started by eating a cookie and then looking in a mirror to see how much cookie sticks around in your teeth. The kids were very helpful in demonstrating how to brush your teeth, and they also got to take their toothbrush home. We all also flossed two teeth and got to see models of teeth.
A kid selecting a raffle ticket for the Red Cross after their class.
At the beginning of each lesson, participants put one of their numbered slips of paper in the paper bag for that class. After the lesson, the instuctors pulled numbers from the bag and used it for a raffle for small prizes. Prizes were mostly healthy things like toothpaste, toothbrushes, floss, Panamanian flags, and seeds for the garden. People in our commuity love raffels and prizes. (And we were able to collect the bags afterward and know how many people attended each charla, and if they were men, women, young adults, or children, by comparing the numbers in the bag back to the sign-in sheet.)
One of the bigger jobs of the day was cooking for everyone. We made a deal with the Padres de la Familia president (and a good friend of ours) Cecilia, that if the Padres cooked (well, really the madres) we would "pay" for the service with much needed new plates, cups, and spoons for the school. This not only benifited the whole community, it also meant that with some washing of dishes, we were able to feed everyone and not use any disposable dishes...less trash!! The cooks also took turns going to classes...and even were so organized that while waiting for the rice to finish cooking they locked up the kitchen and all went to a class.Seven PCVs came out to lend support and teach classes. We could not have done it smoothly without them and would have offered only 1/2 as many classes. A big THANK YOU to Stephanie, Teri, Jim, Robby, Lee, Emily and Laura for your help at the Health Fair!