“Sometimes, we used to watch pornography and then just go out and copy what we watched on the phone at school.”
We heard these words from eighteen-year-old Frank when we were in Rwanda earlier this year. We met Frank as part of our work gathering impact stories about VSO’s Imbere Heza (Bright Future) project. A pioneering programme that is improving sexual and reproductive health services to Deaf youth aged 15-24 in Nyagatare.
We were only in Rwanda for three days but in that time we heard from multiples sources about the impact this programme is having.
We spoke to Deaf young people who had reached adulthood without understanding how their bodies developed. Or the difference between male and female bodies. Girls who’d had no understanding of menstrual cycles. Young people who had become sexually active without ever having been spoken to about pregnancy or STDs.
But, by the time we visited and just a year into the programme, they were communicating with health workers who had been taught sign language and confidently giving condom demonstrations to their peers.
We met the remarkable Brown, VSO’s first and only Deaf National Volunteer in Rwanda who is leading the programme within the community. And we interviewed teachers, community health workers, nurses and even the Director of Health for the region. All of them spoke about the stigma surrounding sex and disability, and the difficulties disabled people have accessing information and their health rights.
Sexual Health Week 2019
The story is not very different in the UK. Today marks the start of Sexual Health Week 2019 and this year it is being led for the first time by the fabulous Brook, the champions of sexual health and wellbeing for the under 25s.
The theme for 2019 is sex, relationships and disability. Although Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) will become mandatory in secondary schools from September 2020, it remains a taboo subject. When it comes to sex education and disabilities, there is even greater stigma; lots of young people are missing out on education, information and support.
In a survey by Sex Education Forum only 29% of teachers said they had received training in RSE. 99% wanted practical advice on meeting the needs of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities.
Brook is using this week to normalise conversations around sex and disability, and to promote its resources that help professionals better equip the young people they work with. Follow them on Twitter to find out how to support their work.
Our thanks to all at Imbere Heza and VSO for allowing us to share their story. Watch our film from the trip and see some of the images below.
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