In Pane Hne Kone village in Southern Shan state of Myanmar, a group of ethnic Pa-O adolescent girls perform a delightful and well-choreographed dance. As the audience applauds, the midwife from the local health center comes to the front, sets up her basket of contraceptives, and starts explaining each method to the crowd. By then, girls, boys, and villagers of all ages filled the auditorium.
In my job as the program manager for Myanmar, I travel to rural villages to see firsthand how we are building youth-centered health education activities thanks to donors like the David & Lucile Packard Foundation.
Our work in Southern Shan state—a collaboration with Myanmar’s Ministry of Health and Sports and the local government—tailors information about contraception specifically to young people, while deepening the knowledge of public and private sector providers on how to serve young people’s needs with care and respect. Our interventions are based on the results of a survey on youth attitudes and behaviors conducted earlier this year with the Ministry. We’ve begun trainings to auxiliary midwives in the area, furnishing them with educational materials and demonstration kits to help lead more informal sessions with young people.
In the auditorium, a question and answer session followed the midwife’s presentation. One of the first questions was from a young man. He asked about contraceptive implants, a method that has recently been introduced into hospitals in Myanmar: “Is the implant meant for men or women?”
A middle-aged woman asked whether IUDs could get dislodged and travel through her body. A man noted that he had never seen a female condom.
As the questions kept coming, audience members fanned themselves with one of our own innovations: a fan illustrated with the various contraceptive methods. It’s perfect for creating a cool breeze in hot weather, while sharing important health information.
Despite the occasional giggle, the audience left with new knowledge—and the confidence that these family planning services are available in their community if they need them. Young people were present, engaged, and showed keen interest.
Our work has just begun, and we are excited to see that we are breaking down barriers—the silence surrounding contraception has been broken, and we can now discuss these matters openly in the presence of unmarried youth.
Too many girls have already dropped out of school and began working in the rice fields, preparing for marriage and childbearing before they turn 20. We will continue to hold these village dialogues in Shan state—working to improve people’s understanding of family planning and sexual health and empower young women to delay childbirth until they and their partners are ready to become parents.