Colombia has poverty unlike anything we see in the US. On average Colombia is a middle income country, but the disparities in wealth mean that it’s poor are among the most disadvantaged in the world. Transportation is spotty and communication erratic. Machismo is alive and well, and teen pregnancy is increasing. So, how to reach the kids? You don’t wait for them to come to you; you go to them.
We drove an hour south of Bogota to a private boarding school, Zoraida Cadavid, where several hundred girls, grades 5-8, awaited us, sitting on stools in their assembly hall, all in uniforms, like all schoolchildren in Colombia. These students are not from well-to-do families and their education is subsidized to a large extent by a family foundation. We took seats on the side. Soon, five scraggly, unshaven males in their late teens arrived carrying guitar cases. They quickly took seats on stools in front of the girls. They were the rock band, Wamba, and also peer educators from Profamilia, the Planned Parenthood of Colombia. I’m thinking, what kind of gender imbalance is this? Where are the female educators?. I soon found out how wrong I was.
The educators had received six months of training at Profamilia and this was their first visit to the school, though other Profamilia educators had been to the school over the past six years. Profamilia also has a psychologist on staff at the school for the girls to talk to. The school was originally run by nuns and it took some doing to get permission for Profamilia to have programs there. Wamba launched into a discussion of violence – physical, psychological, verbal, economic and, finally, sexual. For an hour the educators told stories and asked the teens to share their views. The liveliest interchange from the students came when the topic of sexual violence came up. Rape and incest are epidemic in Colombia, and these girls knew it and some had experienced it. The message of the day was, you can’t always prevent bad things happening, but you can control how you react. You can take control of your life. You can get help. Respect yourself. You may get victimized but don’t be a victim. The girls were riveted and participating and learning. Clearly the boys from Wamba and Profamilia were just what the doctor ordered.
The boys then handed out song sheets and took the stage where they proceeded to play a sing-along rock concert. It was like the Beatles at Shea Stadium! Screaming and arms waving, no fainting though.
The Profamilia educators cover a variety of topics in their visits. Ever since this program started six years ago, there have been no pregnancies at the school.