The Safe Passage health education program was started almost two years ago by a volunteer working toward a Masters in Public Health.  After surveying more than 100 Safe Passage families, she developed the outline of a curriculum based in part on that input.

Long-term Safe Passage volunteer Liz Benjamin has been our lead health educator for more than a year and a half, working in consultation with the clinic and with our social development department. The health curriculum is broken into three different units: basic hygiene, sexual and reproductive health, and violence prevention. Each grade receives age-appropriate health education once every two weeks so our health educators, Liz and Ellen Renfroe, work extremely hard to pack as much as they can into each lesson.

Liz and Ellen create their own lesson plans. Ellen says she is most proud of the unit she taught on birth control to her older students. “It was great to be able to clarify misinformation and empower them to make their own healthy decisions,” she says. Some of Liz’s favorites interactions, on the other hand, have been with younger students. She often reads stories to the children to get them thinking and talking about important themes. For example, the children read “I Like Me” – a picture book about a young pig who talks about all of her best qualities – to stimulate a discussion on positive self-esteem.

Both Liz and Ellen agree that their favorite part of the health education program at Safe Passage is “anonymous questions.” At the end of each meeting with students in 5th grade and up, the teachers let each student write down and submit as many health-related questions as they would like. The two teachers then write out response to each question, researching when necessary, and post the question and the answers on the wall by the next class. Examples of questions include : “I know it’s normal, but why does puberty make me so uncomfortable?”  “What is masturbation and does it cause diseases?” and “How do people fall in love?” It’s a great resource for kids who are shy but wonder about these issues.

As most kids do, 5th graders Katy and Victor got a little sheepish when asked to talk about what they like about health education. They agreed that their favorite topic thus far has been when they covered sexual relationships. Victor says, “That way, when I get older, I know.” Katy added, “Yeah, we know what’s going to happen!” They both say that they spoke with their parents about these issues before they had health class, but they prefer having health teachers to give them the whole story and to answer their questions.

The health program is an important one that complements and aids in Safe Passage’s goal of providing education to some of the poorest in Guatemala City.  Ellen says, “In order for these children to reach their future goals, they need to have good health today!”