After my first week teaching at Safe Passage, Kevin, a fifteen year-old student, stopped me in the hallway to thank me. He told me that health class was important to him, that he was excited to learn about new topics this year, and that he would love to help prepare materials for the class if I ever needed an extra hand. He thanked me again for the class and went off to lunch.

I have taught health classes for over 8 years in schools, clinics, juvenile jails, parents programs, and church groups. I have never taught in an environment as immediately welcoming and supportive as Safe Passage. From the directors to the students, I have felt warmly received from day one. The beauty of an encouraging work environment filled with driven individuals is that it becomes so easy, so natural to achieve a common goal. Thanks to the collaboration of many individuals across Safe Passage and Shared Beat (the US based NGO that funds our health programming), our health education program is set to grow in a number of exciting ways over the next year and I am thrilled to be a part of that expansion.

Health education at Safe Passage

At the moment, evidence-based, prevention-focused health classes are provided for all students from 4th grade through our Adult Literacy participants. Starting in April, health classes will be offered to 1st through 3rd graders in the Safe Passage Colegio and in June we will begin offering classes for the 4, 5, and 6 year-olds at the Escuelita. In this way, we hope to build healthy habits and encourage positive decision-making from the beginning of our students' educational journeys.

In addition to this inclusion of more students in the health program, we will simultaneously begin offering more health education for students' families and for the staff of Safe Passage. The hope of the health education program is that, in this way, parents and staff will be better able to support students in their health education and that they themselves will be better equipped to make healthy decisions. 

Through these various expansions of our services, we aim to reduce the likelihood that any student will discontinue his/ her studies due to health-related issues. Specifically, we will use age-appropriate materials to focus throughout the year on common health concerns in Safe Passage community such as preventable diseases, drug abuse, unwanted pregnancy, malnutrition, accident prevention, violence prevention, as well as proper hygiene and sanitation.  

Personally, I am grateful to the Safe Passage community for the opportunity to work in the Health Education Program and am delighted to be surrounded by warm-hearted, motivated individuals, like Kevin, each day. 

Eleanor Unsworth began as Health Educator at Safe Passage in January 2015. She has lived in Guatemala since December 2013, previously working at a school in Jocotenango. Before moving to Guatemala, Eleanor was the Family Planning Program Coordinator at a Community Health Center in Boston, MA, which served a population of mostly undocumented immigrants.