In northern Vietnam, CWS partners with Trung Ha commune leaders and villagers on an integrated development project (New IDEA). A key focus of the partnership is life skills education and development for ethnic minority children, especially those in lower secondary (junior high) school. CWS focuses on these grades in recognition of ethnic minority people’s practice – primarily due to lack of information and knowledge, and custom – to marry quite early. So, for students ages 11 to 16 their lack information and knowledge of reproductive health because of adults’ apprehension to talk about it, must be addressed. The incidence of early marriage ad school dropout among girls and boys alike in a fact that New IDEA is addressing.
The urgency to address the issue of children having children was made acute to CWS team members last school year when a 7th grade girl and 8th grade boy in Phieng Y village, both of whom left school very soon after the new school-year started. The students’ classroom teacher and the school’s head teacher visited their families and encouraged them to return school. But, during their visit they learned that the girl was pregnant, and the family forced her to stay at home to get married and give birth even though she was just 14 years old.
Sadly, this situation is all too common. In the previous two school years, 8 other girls, and some boys, left 8th and 9th grades to get married. Because of this situation, Ms. Hue, told CWS colleagues that she is very happy we helped her school organize an info-sharing workshop for teachers about how to talk with their students – and, importantly, to organize a big event to raise student awareness, and knowledge, about the physiological and psycho-social aspects of sexual and reproductive health. These topics were previously not discussed, Mr. Hue said, “because of being so delicate. Every teacher avoided them, and we were afraid to speak up to students”. Also, students did not dare to ask questions or speak up because they felt ashamed or embarrassed.
Now Ms. Hue hopes for more positive, interactive communication on this issue so her students, and many others, can learn more – and more comfortably for everyone – about the complex issues of adolescent emotional physical development, especially as they related to feels of “love” and sexual want. She also wants to help them learn how to prevent pregnancy, above l, so they do not have to leave school.
In ethnic minority communities across northern Vietnam, as in rural communities across Asia and around the world, helping young people learn well and wisely about sexual and reproductive health remains vital promoting wholeness and wellbeing. In the face of unhelpful traditions and customs as well as lack of correct information the challenge is one that CWS and other non-government and civil society organizations, alongside governments and schools, must continue addressing.
By Nguyen Thi Hai Yen, CWS Program Officer
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