Empowering Youth in Panama with Options
When Yitzel Arcia was 15-years-old, she attended a meeting that would change her life. At the meeting, people her own age led a discussion about a subject no adult she knew had mentioned.
“They were talking about sex and relationships, and the changes we were experiencing in our bodies,” said Yitzel. “They were talking about the most basic theme: how to take care of you. Yet, this wasn’t being talked about among my family or at school.”
The meeting was organized by Youth With Options, a program of APLAFA, the leading sexual and reproductive health organization in Panama. A pioneer in ensuring that young men and women are able to make informed decisions about their lives, APLAFA created Youth With Options to provide young people with peer-led sexuality education, leadership training, and the support of trusted adults.
For Arcia, who grew up in a small community in central Panama, Youth With Options gave her motivation not only to take care of her own health, but also teach others how to do the same.
APLAFA runs three Youth With Options groups with nearly 100 participants throughout Panama. These groups provide a space where young people learn about sexual and reproductive health, how to prevent sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies, and how to advocate for their sexual rights.
After completing a comprehensive training, Youth With Options members take their newfound knowledge and skills into their communities to educate their peers. They organize events to raise awareness, dispel myths, and break the social taboos against talking about youth sexuality, reaching more than 8,000 young people across Panama each year.
To compliment this outreach work, APLAFA also makes health services accessible to young clients and trains their providers to provide confidential, youth-friendly services.
Yitzel says that Youth with Options not only sparked her interest in sexual and reproductive health, but also gave her the confidence to pursue a nursing degree.
"Being well-informed has been a factor in the decisions I've made, and I want to contribute to society by giving other young people the same opportunity."
Ten years after her first Youth With Options meeting, Yitzel continues to work with APLAFA. At the age of 25, she heads their clinic in San Miguelito, where she provides care to nearly 2,000 young people each year.