One of the most enlightening activities during PST was teaching life skills at the local primary school. The teaching style in many Swazi schools is very different than in America. First, corporal punishment is still used. Second, students are taught to repeat back what the teacher says, not think for themselves. For example; if there is a lesson on bacteria the teacher would say (very simplified)“bacteria are small organisms” The children will repeat “bacteria are small organism”. Then, the teacher will say “bacteria are small _____” and the children will respond “organisms”. In some schools children are hit for wrong answers which can not be encouraging to try and answer. All of this leads to a lack of children feeling as free to express themselves or their opinions as we are used to in America.
Peace Corps once again split the volunteers into small groups and let us design a lesson plan, this time at least the subject was not puberty. We could choose from any of the lessons in our “life skills” manuals-a series of lessons designed to foster self esteem, healthy relationships, good decision making, and ultimately hopes these tools will prevent bad decisions later on. The book is about 150 pages, at least, and a comprehensive tool which emphasizes all the lessons are needed to have healthy children in all aspects of their lives. We were given 1 hour with the kids.
My group chose to do a decision making exercise because it can help in so many aspects of life and teaches about consequences as well as taking responsibility for your choices. I thought this would be a pretty easy self explanatory lesson, but, as always, I quickly realized I know nothing. We started with our explanation of ways to make a decision, people that are good to ask advice, not ignoring a problem etc… then did a big group example of a decision and had the class talk out what they would do. So far, so good. After, we split into smaller groups to do the same exercise with more difficult scenarios. I had nine 7th graders in my group and our scenario was; you are waiting to have sex until marriage. Your boyfriend says you will get married, but wants to have sex now. Okay group, what do you do? (keep in mind we’d spent 40 mins discussing how to consider consequences, ask advice, think of different options, and make good decision). One of the boys says “I’d just have sex”. I take him as a smart alec, and ask how he came to the decision.
“everyone does it.”
“Did you consider possible consequences?”
“Do you think it might effect your relationship?”
“Do you think some people only SAY they want to get married so you’ll have sex?”
I decided the kid was trying to look cool and back tracked to have the group think over the steps to making the decision. The group came up with possible consequences of pregnancy, stis, HIV, your boyfriend leaving you after, you not being ready emotionally(that one was my suggestion because no one considered it). The pros list was “it feels good, and you love your boyfriend.” The group decided you could consult a friend, sibling, pastor, or parent for advice. I was feeling way better that the rest of the group understood the activity; they all comprehended you have to think through big decisions like this, right? Apparently not. Just to be clear, I asked “So, now that we’ve thought through everything-who would have sex in this situation?” Every. Single. Group. Member. raised their hand. In my little group of SEVENTH graders 100% would choose to have sex. I asked if their answer would change if I said the situation was not talking about the future, but at their current age; no defectors. I then asked if they would at least wear a condom? All said yes, so there’s that at least. At this point one of our LCFs (Peace Corps teachers of siSwati and Swazi culture) had wandered over and was listening to me, looking a little amused and horrified. I wondered if it was a language thing, so I had him translate the question as a last ditch effort, they still maintained unanimity.
Unsure of how to proceed, I tried to decipher why they all felt it was ok to have sex so early and hoped I’d be able to dissuade at least one of them. The students blamed the media for making them want to have sex, and Generations. Quick sidebar: Generations is a show without an equivalent in the US. It is a nightly soap opera that is watched by almost anyone with a tv. In America, there may be 2 or 3 shows competing for viewing in primetime, and some households have multiple tvs so as to avoid the conflict of missing someone’s’ show. Not here. Young and old, anyone with a tv can tell you the current story line of Generations-it is an absolute phenomenon. I asked if people on Generations ever have consequences?
“really? Do they ever have babies they did not plan?”
“Do people ever fight or break up because of sex?”
“Do you want a baby?”
“So is that a good or a bad thing?”
I was feeling a little better, at least they were not arguing sex does not have drawbacks. I asked why their generation is different, did they think their parents had sex at their age?. I went on talking about pregnancy, and efficacy of condoms not being 100%, emotional toll of sex too young, and had Mandla translate just to be sure. They were all nodding and I finally felt that they understood what I was saying. I asked again if anyone wanted to rethink their answers, and knew I’d changed 9 young lives forever….nope. They all would still have sex. After everything I had just said, one boys response to my exasperation was “but it just looks fun”. Touché, you horny delinquent, touché. ,
I guess you really do need all the life skills lessons together for them to work. I hope the idea of thinking about you actions sunk in at least a little bit, but who knows. Another failed attempt at teaching down, and I continue to learn from my mistakes.