16-year-old Emily is one of 22 young women and men serving as WINGS’ Youth Leaders in and around the Antigua area. Through a variety of activities, informal talks, health fairs, and in-school talks, they provide their peers and youth in their communities with important, accurate information concerning sexual and reproductive health. They also provide referrals to WINGS’ youth-friendly clinic for private counseling and services with our Youth Program Coordinators and team of nurses.
Emily visited our Antigua office the other day and we took the opportunity to ask her a few questions.
Before joining WINGS Youth Program, what was your knowledge of sexual and reproductive health? Did you talk about the topic at school, with your family, with your friends?
I think maybe we were embarrassed. For me talking even a little bit about this with my friends or family, was embarrassing. Also, where I go to school, it is run by nuns. So they don’t talk about these things. But here [at WINGS] we have learned that trust is really important and we need to work on good communication. Learning about these topics helps us feel secure and more confident so we can talk with other people.
Why do you think adolescent pregnancy is so common in Guatemala? Is there a reason young people don’t use contraceptives?
Because people don’t talk about it, there is no guidance. There are also places where people don’t know contraceptive methods exist. There is a lack of trust and information. Maybe as well people lack the resources to buy and use methods.
What do you hope to change by being part of this program?
Through this program I can guide those close to me, give them information and bring them to the WINGS’ office so they can learn and receive the same guidance I have received. They can learn about the different options available. I can encourage them to seek counseling and services. Also, other youth trust us, we can talk to them about these topics and they feel comfortable, safer, able to ask the questions they have, that they wouldn’t ask an adult. Because we are the same age as our peers, we understand better what they’re thinking and feeling.
What are your plans for the future?
I am just finishing middle school and next year will start my career training. I plan on going on to college. I would like to travel and see different countries. I’d like a job where I learn many skills and where I can also keep helping and volunteering my time.
Anything else you’d like to share about your experience?
My experience, I’ve liked my time with WINGS because I feel more confident and self-aware. There are things I didn’t know before and now I do know. I like going to the different communities with Ana Lucia (Youth Program Coordinator) and providing youth information. I really like doing this work.
Through WINGS’ Youth Program, Emily has had the opportunity to learn about contraception and sexual and reproductive health.Through developing youth leadership and expanding access to information and services, we seek to create a new generation of informed young women and men who are shifting gender norms and advocating for their rights at the community level. Unfortunately, there are still too many young girls in Guatemala, particularly in remote, rural, indigenous communities, who do not have access to this information. As a consequence many become pregnant at an early age and less than 30% get to attend secondary school.
We want to change this and we’re asking YOU to step in today.
This is the moment for girls – with your help, we can reach more vulnerable girls and empower them to make their own decisions about their futures, just like Emily. Support our emergency campaign culminating on October 11th, the International Day of the Girl Child. Please hurry – there are only 4 days left!
Each donation made will be matched by a generous anonymous donor so your impact for girls in Guatemala will double!
This month, we interviewed our Executive Director, Rodrigo Barillas. Rodrigo was born and raised in Guatemala City. He went to high school in Honduras and then came back to Guatemala for medical school. He later did a research fellowship at Harvard Medical School and The Children’s Hospital in Boston, and later got an MBA in HealthCare Management from the Complutense University in Madrid. Read on to learn about his experience both as chief and as patient of WINGS.
As a male born and raised in Guatemala City, what do families and schools usually teach boys about reproductive rights?
Nothing. Sexual reproductive health and sexual rights are not topics that one usually hears or learns about in school or in my case, not even my parents talked about that with me.
How did you learn about reproductive health and rights?
I’m guessing I started finding out about it with friends, but my real knowledge about the topic started in medical school.
In Guatemalan culture, what is the most challenging thing for men regarding reproductive rights, health, and women’s rights?
I think the idea that men need to be “macho” and that men act a certain way and women act a certain way, and that boys and girls are different. The idea that men need to prove, sexually prove their worth, I think those are big challenges for any males growing up in a country as conservative as Guatemala.
What made you interested specifically in reproductive health?
I was definitely the black sheep of my family and the black sheep with my med school colleagues. I learned about a book that was called The Contraceptive Technology that was being distributed by the World Health Organization in Guatemala. I called them up and asked for a donation, which I got. I distributed those books throughout my group of colleagues; the ones that were doing OBGYN rotation. I was called by the head of the OBGYN department and he admonished me, he told me I shouldn’t do. That sexual rights were not to be talked about. I think experiences like that opened my eyes to the idea that I needed to do something for women, especially, to have them access family planning and reproductive health services. At that age, I was having sexual relationships with a steady girlfriend and I didn’t want her to get pregnant, so it also made me seek this type of education and find alternatives.
When did you first hear about WINGS? How did you become involved with the organization?
It was in 2007, when I started working as Health Manager for USAID, for a health project called USAID Alianzas. That year, we signed a grant with WINGS and I immediately fell in love with the institution. I felt that it was doing amazing work with youth, women, cervical cancer screenings; just amazing work that needed to be done at the community level and ever since then, I’ve been involved. I was invited to become a board member, I was the first Guatemalan to become a board member when I left Usaid Alianzas in 2011, and I served for 3 years. Then, I was selected to become Executive Director.
What made you want to become Executive Director of WINGS? Why that position?
I was already a board member and the position became available as our previous Executive Director resigned. My wife opened my eyes and said “Look, you are so passionate about WINGS”, so she suggested that I throw my hat in the ring. I talked to the Board President and I recused myself from the board so that I could become a candidate for the position. Two years later, here I am.
In your experience as Executive Director, is there a particular story that has moved you or inspired you at WINGS?
That’s a hard story. From users, I think every person that I’ve seen, known, and learned about inspires me. What keeps me moving and keeps me motivated and passionate about what I do, what keeps me waking up on Mondays with the same passion, as when I go home on Fridays after work, is our staff. They are just amazing. They are so committed to what we do, they are the heroes of all this. They are the ones that keep me going.
Earlier this year, you were a patient of WINGS. As a patient, what do you think of WINGS’ services? Is there anything about your experience you’d like to share?
I’m going to be biased since I am the Executive Director (laughs). I wouldn’t want anything to be different. The whole experience was great. The way that my staff treated me as a patient, the procedure, and the technical quality from our Medical Director and nurses was just amazing. To me, it was an obvious choice to have the vasectomy done in our clinic, with our staff. You have to lead by example.
How did your male friends and colleagues react to you getting a vasectomy?
Thanks to our Communications Assistant, we decided to document the whole process. No private photos were taken, but some photos were taken. We posted on Facebook and the reactions from most of my friends if not all, was positive. My friends reached out to me and said they wanted to learn more about getting a vasectomy done. One friend of mine got a vasectomy at WINGS, and another three friends got vasectomies in Guatemala City, but they were all positively surprised. A couple more friends want to get a vasectomy now.
What do you think can be done to get rid of taboos about sexual health in Guatemala?
Be open about what we talk about, how we talk about it, specifically to those who are fortunate to be educated about these topics. We need to be frank, openly talk about it, discuss issues with our youth about rising adolescent pregnancies, the problems women face when trying to access these reproductive rights, etc. It’s our obligation, we have to talk about it with the education we have. That’s going to help.
Why should people invest in WINGS?
Every cent that we invest in WINGS and every effort that we give results in better services for our population, more specifically for our women and younger girls. That’s why I invest in WINGS. I think WINGS has a huge advantage over other NGOs and it’s the fact that we provide services at the community level. More people should invest in this type of project.
What is your vision of Guatemala in the future?
My vision for Guatemala is optimistic because I think the general population is no longer asleep. I think we demand a different morality from our authorities; we aren’t just going to sit back and see them eat away our country; we are ready to take action. I think many changes are happening in the next 10 15 years. One of the biggest one is that we’re going from 51% urbanization to 75% of the population living in urbanized settings. That’s going to require a lot of planning, not just in cities, but services you provide to all these people; conversations about this will be necessary. The fact that people my age, most are more progressive than our fathers or grandparents were, I think we’re going to be empowered and we’re going to be more progressive toward individual rights rather than society vs. individuals. The world as a whole is going through a major crisis between those who have the most and those who have the least. Like the world, we will have to make big changes in our economic system. I believe in capitalism, but one with a social conscience, not one that wants to eat away and make everything more unequal. I am very optimistic. I think I, for one, want to see a better world for my children than the one I got from my parents.