Guest Blog by Beverly Damelin.
Beverly Damelin writes about her experiences working with Shutaf young adults, ages 15-21, part of our Teen Young Leadership Program. Damelin is trained in Public Health, Sex Education and Group Facilitation, and works in Israel and abroad, with adolescents and adults, specializing in making sex education accessible to all. For more information about Bev: http://www.miniut-bria.com
This is part two of a two part entry.
One of my great teachers taught me that it was good to have butterflies every single time I stood before a new group and that the day those butterflies were no longer there, was the day I should stop doing this work.
When I sat in front of the Shutaf Teen Young Leadership Program for our first session, my butterflies were psyched. I had met the parents of the participants, I had prepared the staff, but I had no idea of the response I would be facing until I had put the word “Sex” out there, loud and clear.
As it so happens, the initial reception of me and my subject was less than smooth. While the Teen Young Leadership Program group is widely diverse in age, maturity and character, a prominent feature of the group is their capacity to share their feelings honestly and directly. Their feelings were overwhelmingly that this subject was embarrassing and awkward for them to hear in a large, coed group.
I was thrilled with this response. After my instinctive reaction of concern, I realized that this might well be the fundamental experience of every group I ever run, adolescents or adults, with special needs or not. Because talking out loud about sex inspires self-consciousness, confusion and at some point, discomfort, for practically everybody. The Teen Young Leadership Program participants, though, were putting those feelings out in the middle of the room. From there we could recognize them, own them and deconstruct them, so that they could get on with the job of learning about themselves and their society. When I showed up for the second meeting I wasn’t entirely convinced that the room would be as full as it had been previously, but it was not only full, it was buzzing. This was the excited energy that lasted till the end of the series. Mine as well as theirs.
During our four meetings, we covered genital anatomy, sexual development, fertility, contraception, sexual vocabulary, personal boundaries, wanted and unwanted behaviors and dating etiquette. There was genuine enthusiasm to participate in role playing and to discuss it or even direct their friends’ acting. Given the opportunity to ask questions anonymously, I was provided a good deal of direction as to where their needs and interests lay. In truth, there questions were typical of all teens, lots of hows and whats. One notable difference was perhaps a lack of demand for comparison to their peers (how often do…, how soon should I…, is it normal that…)
The Teen Young Leadership Program managed to handle much of the discussion as a united group, which fosters an understanding of the wide diversity of interests, capabilities and experience. But certain discussions and exercises were handled in male/female groups or small circles to increase comfort and participation. This was capable only due to the exceptional group of staff members, whose familiarity with the participants and capacity to handle the material produced constructive input during the meetings, and helpful feedback after the sessions.
We all seemed to enjoy an illuminating experience. We succeeded in covering a range of subjects, keeping them concise, in line with the general comfort level and capacity for assimilating the information. I look forward to making this into an annual series, in keeping with the ideal of continuous sex education. Hopefully this model can serve to exemplify what is possible to implement and achieve when an organization is profoundly connected to the needs of its members.