February: Howls of laughter. Rapturous applause. Cheers of appreciation. To the unsuspecting ear, it sounded like playtime – and in many ways it was – as 150 teenage students took part in a sex education session with a difference.
Fun, engaging learning was the order of the afternoon at Suankularb Wittayalai Rangsit School, just outside capital Bangkok, as the teens were put through their paces, fumbling condoms onto cucumbers and racing three-legged across the yard with 5kg bags of rice strapped to their fronts. The bags of rice, which symbolized pregnant stomachs, gave the girls and boys an insight into the stresses young mothers go through.
“I had fun. I feel less embarrassed to talk with my friends about these things now. I learnt a lot today and I want every child to learn about this as well,” said 14-year-old I, younger sister to 3 siblings.
There were other activities in the yard. Girls and boys explored ways of saying no to sexual advances while another group used straws to drip drops of their drinks in their friends’ cups of water. Once a coloured liquid was added into the mix, it took no time at all before all the drinks turned a deep shade pink. The idea here was to show how easily sexually transmitted infections can spread.
“It’s important because it teaches us to be aware of protecting ourselves from unwanted pregnancies and consequences,” added Tan, 14, who said he came away from the day with lots of newfound wisdom.
The initiative was run by a group of undergraduates from the media and communications faculty of Thammasat University who had worked closely with Plan Thailand’s HIV/AIDS and advocacy teams to develop the activities and key messaging. About 30 of the enthusiastic undergrads were on hand to ensure everything ran smoothly. But while there was lots of fun involved, the underlying reasons for holding this event were more serious.
Thailand has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the region, with 15-19-year-olds accounting for 47 of every 1,000 registered births, according to UN data. There’s also a high prevalence of sexually transmitted infections and about half a million people in the country are living with HIV. With stats like these a harsh reminder of the pitfalls teenagers have to avoid, there’s a desperate need for robust and engaging sex education schemes.
“This is Pathum Thani and Pathum Thani is a province in Thailand that has a high prevalence of drugs and teen pregnancies. We want the students here to realize that if they get pregnant while studying, it is harmful for their life,” said 21-year-old Pang from Thammasat. “We think that to have sex while studying is normal in any country, but they have to be safe. You have to know what is good and what you should do. It’s OK to have sex, but we are also teaching them how to say no.”
Pathum Thani is home to a hive of workers who have travelled from all over the country to work in the factories. Most of these factory workers have had minimal education themselves and many of their children go to Suankularb School, said Ploy, 20.
“Normally if a student gets pregnant, they drop out of school and stay at home. The school will not allow them to go back because of the reputation of the school,” she added.
Pang, Ploy and their friends have taken the issue to heart and are keen to educate the youngsters to make informed decision, stay healthy and steer clear of undesired situations. Other activities on the day included the screening of two films shot by the Thammasat crew and the distribution of a handy pocket book chock full of useful info for the teens.