Supporting Youth with Disabilities in Trinidad & Tobago
Mia Mazer, Media and Communications Intern
On today’s Independence Day, Trinidad and Tobago celebrates 50 years as a sovereign nation, and our local partner, Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT), has been fulfilling the country's sexual and reproductive health needs for the duration of that history.
More than half a century after opening its doors in 1957, FPATT is the exclusive provider of sexual and reproductive health services in four districts in Trinidad and Tobago. It brings critical health services to the most vulnerable communities through Mobile Health Units, which increase access to health care for poor and marginalized people might otherwise do without.
FPATT is also a pioneer in meeting the needs of young people, and operates the first youth center to open in the country. Although many young people face challenges when it comes to accessing sexual and reproductive health services, young people with disabilities face additional barriers due to stigmatization and social prejudice. These young people are often isolated and lack knowledge about sexual and reproductive health and rights. As a result, they are vulnerable to sexual abuse, unplanned pregnancies, and sexually transmitted infections.
“I was constantly raped by my father, and I got pregnant," says Monique, a young woman with a disability. "People with disabilities are made invisible and silent. They need encouragement in gaining confidence and becoming as self-sufficient as possible."
In Port of Spain and San Fernando, FPATT has established a project to provide a full range of sexual and reproductive health services to young people with disabilities. ‘Going Beyond the Walls’ offers HIV testing and counseling, Pap tests, and seminars to sensitize all young people to the issues faced by those living with a disability.
Over 400 students attended educational sessions about people with disabilities and their sexual rights. Participants said their attitudes towards people with disabilities, and often towards themselves, shifted significantly as a result of the project. They suggested that what they had learned should be communicated to everyone in the country.
"People seem to think there’s something strange about me wanting to have sex or enjoying it," Monique explains. "This program has given me confidence. I’ll make sure that what I learned I’ll teach to others.”
The impact FPATT is making is clear, and the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago have a lot to celebrate as they look forward to the next 50 years.