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Monday, October 08, 2007

Saving the youth from risks

Saving the youth from risks

By Ma. Cecilia Rodriguez
Mindanao Bureau
Last updated 09:53pm (Mla time) 10/06/2007

MISAMIS ORIENTAL--Unlike other teenagers, this group spends weekends and free time not in malls and game hubs but in dusty barangay (village) halls or even under the shade of a tree.

Being there is neither a requirement nor a spiritual sortie but is motivated by a common mission: To save young people like them from contracting sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS (human immunodeficiancy virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome).

The advocates call themselves Kartada Tres, an acronym for Karapatan at Kalusugan ng Kabataan.

With more than 600 youth volunteers, the group goes around barangay in Misamis Oriental and the Lanao provinces to conduct small group discussions and symposiums about reproductive health, HIV/AIDS prevention and safe sex.

"Participants should be 13 to 21 years old. There are times when older people want to sit in but usually they ruin the discussion because of their hostile reactions," relates Mark Vincent Datoy, 21, one of the senior volunteers.

Thus, he says, they usually request organizers to make sure the lectures will be exclusive for the youth.

SK project
Kartada Tres is composed of officers of the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) in Lanao and Misamis Oriental. The AIDS/HIV awareness campaign was originally a project of the SK in 2004, but it was the Population Services Pilipinas Inc. (PSPI) that was requested to facilitate a series of seminars designed to spark interest and awareness among SK members on reproductive health.

Ping Castillo, PSPI project officer, says she welcomes the SK interest on HIV/AIDS prevention. "The youth are usually the last to receive information on these matters, while in fact they are among those most exposed to unsafe sex," she says.

Castillo regrets that the government's rural health units do not include the youth in its reproductive health campaign. "I believe there is so much to be done to meet the needs of the youth," she says, pointing to the lack of openness in sex education among health workers.

This same attitude among stakeholders, especially the Church and the academe, became a major challenge for Kartada Tres.

"We know there are people who do not agree with what we are doing. They criticize and rebuke us, saying we only encourage teenagers to engage in premarital sex. But we are also encouraged by the support we get from those who believe in our cause," Datoy says.

He mentions the recognition the group has received from the Cagayan de Oro City council for its work.

Youth at risk
"We started our seminars with personality and communication skills development. Then we moved on to gender and sexuality, and eventually discussed extensively reproductive health, safe sex and HIV/AIDS," recounts Castillo on the PSPI's technique in capturing the interest of their young audience.

More than capturing the interest of students, the agency sparked among them a devotion to impart what they had learned to other youngsters.

A month after the training, Kartada Tres was founded. It came at a time when the alarm had been sounded on the prevalence of premarital sex.

A study conducted by the University of the Philippines' Population Institute in 2002, shows that one of five young Filipinos aged 15-24 had engaged in sexual intercourse before marriage and about 15 percent of young Filipino males had engaged in homosexual sex.

Between 1994 and 2002, the number of young people who thought that AIDS was curable more than doubled.

In the article "Restless, Reckless and at Risk" by Tony Maghirang (Sunday Inquirer Magazine, June 17, 2007), Prof. Maria Paz Marquez, deputy project coordinator of the Young Adults Fertility and Sexuality Study (YAFS) project, said: "We found an increasing trend towards risky sexual behavior--sex with multiple partners, casual sex, or sex with new acquaintances, commercial sex and unprotected sex. The risks involve early and unwanted pregnancy, or contracting sexually transmitted diseases."

Datoy gulps down these facts like flowing water.

"Yes, teenage sex is happening," he says. "Everyone should accept that this is happening not only in liberated countries but also in the Philippines."

"There was this teenager who was in one of my lectures, 15 or 16 years old. He was sexually active and believed that he will not contract any sexually transmitted disease because he is young and strong. After hearing my lecture, he told me later that he will stop his sexual adventures and if ever, will make sure to use condoms," recounts Datoy.

Kartada Tres volunteers have tested the effectiveness of their lectures in its almost four years of work. "They listen to us because we can relate to them. Parang magkakabarkada lang kami (We are like buddies)," says Datoy.

Castillo stresses that instead of berating them, the best way is to teach them responsibility and educate them on the risks. "Turning them away or simply ignoring will only push them to greater danger," she says.

Deadly consequences
Dr. Lucille Tesoro, secondary education supervisor of the Department of Education in Northern Mindanao, agrees on the importance of sex education today.

"Before, there was already an agreement that sex education will be included in PHEM subject in high school.

Although this was implemented, the lectures only touched on how to be a good lady or gentleman, there was no real lecture on reproductive health and sexuality," Tesoro says.

She commends Kartada Tres for its work and calls on its members to "try approaching the DepEd" for partnership.

Partnership with other sectors and stakeholders has been long planned by Kartada Tres as it pushes for the passage of an AIDS council in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City that will consolidate all the efforts for HIV/AIDS prevention.

Datoy, who will soon pass his mantle to a new volunteer when he graduates in college next year, says he has high hopes for his group. "There's still so much to do. We haven't reached all the barangay yet," he says.

Above his worries that many teens are still out there doing unprotected sex, he reels over the deadly consequences not only of the behavior of these young people, but the actions of the elder ones.

"I hope they will open their minds that premarital sex is happening. People should not condemn people who are sexually active," he says.