Filling the Gap in Venezuela
Venezuela has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in Latin America, and after a stroll through Caracas, it's not hard to believe. Young women with pregnant bellies or babies are readily seen.
In 2011, the Ministry of Health reported that nearly 1 in 3 pregnancies were among young women between 15 and 19 years old. Yet, comprehensive sexuality education isn’t a mandatory part of the school curriculum. Instead, local health providers are left to fill the gap.
PLAFAM, our local partner in Venezuela, works to educate young people about sex and sexuality in a way that’s informative and entertaining. In partnership with an improvisational theatre group, PLAFAM dispels myths about sexual and reproductive health that teenagers commonly believe, including the mistaken belief that you can’t get pregnant the first time you have sex or that adding cinnamon to a popular malt drink will induce an abortion. The performances draw audiences in by telling them what they know is true: that sex should be about fun and pleasure, not fear of sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancy.
“Part of our message is about making condom use more sexy,” says Michela Guarente, sexologist and former PLAFAM staff member. “I talk about making it part of foreplay, and suggest using colored or flavored condoms.”
PLAFAM has reached more than 22,000 young people through these performances, but they know that education is not enough. Youth also need access to sexual and reproductive health services. So, PLAFAM provides low-cost services for young people at three clinics in Caracas.
The staff aims to put young people at ease when they come to the clinics. They talk to them about their everyday life, not just the reason they’re seeking services, and speak to them in a friendly, informal way. Most importantly, young people are empowered to make their own choices.
Leidy Lorenzo came to PLAFAM to get a contraceptive implant after giving birth to her daughter at 16. She wanted to be sure she wouldn't get pregnant again until after she completes her studies.
"I don't want another baby now. I'm in my last year at school," said Leidy. "I want to study nursing at university. I want to study, and have a career, for my child. I don't want to have to depend on anybody else to do this.”
PLAFAM is giving young people the tools they need to build healthy and safe relationships. They are also providing them with the sexual and reproductive health services that meet their unique needs.
"I like the way they treat me," said Leidy. "If you go to a public hospital, it's very crowded and you don't get the attention you need. Here, you feel the staff have the time. I get all the answers I need."