KIDS are pairing up earlier and earlier these days, and with young romance comes the inevitable risk of sexual misunderstanding and risk taking. According to a 2010 survey conducted by the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport, “over the past three months, condom usage among young couples has been alarmingly low, at 31% for females and 58% for males.”
Teenagers in Kampong Cham’s Dambe district are taking action against this reproductive health crisis, volunteering as peer educators for the Reproductive Health Association of Cambodia (RHAC).
Trin Dung, 22, has been working as a peer educator since 2008. He began volunteering in order to help his friends and fellow young people avoid risky behaviour and to further develop his village, he said. He added that he wants to serve as a role model for other teenagers, teaching them how to avoid sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s), unwanted pregnancy, and HIV/AIDS infections. He also wanted to gain more knowledge and experience relating to reproductive health.
“Before becoming a peer educator, I underwent a five day training on sexual reproductive health,” said Trin Dung. “I’ve been responsible for organizing discussion groups in my village, inviting young people aged 10 to 24 to talk about topics including STD’s, HIV/AIDS, unwanted pregnancy, drug use, and growing up,” he added.
“I am very pleased to be able to discuss reproductive health with other young people, because I feel like I can help them avoid the risks inherent in engaging in sexual activity.”
He continued that, in his village, there are two peer educators, each responsible for disseminating information on sexual health, conducting group discussions and one-on-one talks, and referring young people with sexual health problems to RHAC’s nearby clinic.
Working as a peer educator can be challenging, as some youths are reluctant to participate in group discussions or too shy to speak about reproductive health. However, Trin Dung claims the RHAC’s work is helping to change this, lifting the taboo on talking about sex.
“I’ve noticed the teenagers in my village becoming more willing to discuss reproductive health issues,” he said, adding that, “those types of discussions used to be considered obscene.”
Fellow peer educator Kim Hounvanna, 19, said that there are many students who drop out of school and miss out on any sexual education. Educating the youths who would otherwise miss out is one of the most important roles of a peer educator, he added.
Hounvanna continued that teaching sexual education has also helped him a lot, allowing him to exchange ideas and share information about health issues and STD avoidance.
“My hope is that more and more youths will join the peer educator program in the future,” he said.
Thouen Channeit, 17, another peer educator, said that despite being a girl she feels a strong drive to help people learn about reproductive health.
“Girls shouldn’t be too shy to talk about reproductive health. It’s very important to share needs, worries, and problems, and to admit what we may not know about our own health,” she said. “Don’t be shy!”