According to the World Bank, the average Haitian twenty-five years old and above has not completed a third grade education. This means that the average Haitian has had limited opportunities to learn about their bodies in a classroom setting with trained medical professionals and accurate information. Four nursing students and their professor from Cumberland University have come to Haiti to teach our First 1,000 Days caregivers on sex education and caring for their bodies.
On Tuesday, March 3, 2020, we (Cumberland University Nurses) were blessed to educate the women of Haiti on caring for their bodies and teaching them about the various STDs/STIs such as Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis, Trichomoniasis, and HIV. The presentation was opened with a song and a prayer. First 1,000 Days (PMJ) director, Liz, introduced us as graduating nurses visiting with our professor, Dr. Barnes, from America to engage with the moms of PMJ in an empowering lesson about protecting themselves.
The lesson began with asking the women to get up and greet everyone that included shaking hands. The women’s faces lit up, and they loved greeting each other and us. They didn’t realize there was a purpose to this activity which included a connection to the STD topic. Previously, a woman in the group was secretly chosen to have glitter on her hand. As everyone shook hands, you could hear the laughter when they found glitter on their hands that had been passed around. They had caught “the sparkle” which was later used to show how easily STDs/STIs can spread without protection.
The reception from the women and their children were very inviting, and we instantly felt welcomed. The women were very receptive to the message and engaged in the conversation by describing facts they already knew about some STDs/STIs including the most common (HIV and Syphilis). Certain topics that hit close to home with the mothers were how these STDs/STIs would personally affect their children, cause miscarriages, or potential death. The work that Many Hands does for these women and their families is truly remarkable. You can feel the love and the trust in the room from these women with the Many Hands workers, and the developed relationships enabled us to have authentic conversations about a taboo topic.
When explaining the signs and symptoms of the various STDs/STIs, we didn’t only focus on the symptoms in women, but we also informed them of symptoms that men could experience as well in order to empower them to identify potential risks. The ladies went into hysterics when we described the men experiencing undesirable complications. Visuals of what the STDs/STIs would look like in their children, as well as their genital areas (men and women) was impactful, too. Most important was describing preventative measures including abstinence, monogamy, and condoms. The women were upfront with the fact that they don’t like the use of condoms and they claimed the condoms would give them vaginal infections. We were able to explain that after sex, urination and showers should occur to help reduce infections.
Even though there was a language barrier, with the help of the awesome nurse Lerosane and the wonderful Many Hands Worker Liz, it was a great feeling to be able to connect with the women of Haiti and to share in the laughter and the joy of being women together in this world. We were able to stress the importance of being advocates for your own body and protecting themselves so that they can be there for their families.
Please join us in praying for our family and friends in Nashville, Hermitage, Donelson, Lebanon, Cookeville, and all other places affected by the tragic tornado that took place on the morning of March 3rd. We pray for God’s protection, strength, covering, and comfort during this difficult time. Please know we are thinking of you and our hearts are with you.