One Saturday a couple of years ago, 16-year-old Edgar Anibal Miranda sat in his bedroom in Guatemala City, listening to the radio. He was surprised to hear a group of young people talking openly about sexual health issues.
“It was strange,” he now says. “I’d never heard anyone talk about these topics – not my parents, not even my school.”
The radio program was part of Club en Conexión, the youth program of PSI’s Central American network member, PASMO. In a region where young people aged 10-24 make up a third of the population, access to information about reproductive health, HIV and sexually transmitted infections is critical but often lacking.
Teen pregnancy rates are alarming in many parts of the region, and only about half of all sexually active young people report using condoms. Club en Conexión works to meet young people’s sexual and reproductive health needs by training motivated youth to become leaders and educators in their communities. Operating in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras, young club leaders teach their friends and peers through interactive activities, including games and kiosks at public events, education sessions at schools and universities, an online web community and popular radio programs. Since its inception in 2005, Club en Conexión’s peer educators have conducted more than 90,000 activities throughout the region. Guatemala’s radio program alone reaches more than 65,000 listeners, generating more than 100 contacts per show, including Edgar.
At the end of the first show he heard, Edgar was hooked. The young radio announcers issued a call for new club members, and Edgar, though shy at the time, thought it would be a good opportunity to learn more about sexual health issues and hopefully have the chance to be on the radio.
Edgar and several other new leaders participated in a three-month training; all of it was new to him.
“Here in Guatemala,” Edgar said, “these are taboo topics that people don’t talk about because of the conservative culture.”
He was excited to learn about issues that he had never heard of before from adults in his community or that his friends only joked about, oftentimes with incorrect information.
Despite the excitement, it was difficult for Edgar. He initially had trouble stepping outside of his comfort zone. Though most of the group began leading outreach activities and participating in the radio program before Edgar, he continued working with the program and found the encouragement and support to become more confident and outgoing.
Today, three years later, Edgar is 19 and far from the shy teenager he once was. He speaks enthusiastically and openly on Guatemala’s Club en Conexión radio program and is at ease speaking to groups of all sizes. He is proud of the work that he does.
“Sometimes I’ll be leading a game,” Edgar says. “And maybe six people are interested. Now if any of those six people have sexual relationships or face problems with violence, for example, they’ll think back to that one guy who gave them information. I don’t know who I’ve saved or helped, but that person will remember me.”
Growing up in a vulnerable neighborhood riddled with drugs and gangs in Guatemala’s capital city, Edgar is happy to have found an outlet to help him learn ways to keep himself healthy and safe and, more importantly, to teach his peers these same lessons.
“It’s not the same if an adult tells you,” he said. “They talk to you but then it seems like they’re scolding you. But I’m a young person talking to other young people and they can identify with me.”
Check out the photos below of a day in Edgar’s life: