It was a beautiful late afternoon at Baywalk: cool and breezy after a day that brought hints of summer to come. Great walking weather. And there were a few seniors out strolling, some families, kids furiously peddling bikes – and, of course, young people, couples, groups of girls, boys, mixed groups. This, after all, is where they go on a Friday night.
I was there with UgatngKalusugan, the NGO that dedicates itself to providing reproductive health and services to teens and women in Puerto Princesa and as far into Palawan as possible. We were there precisely because the young, both singles and couples, are there.
We arrived around 6:00 P.M. and set up our table right next to the Baywalk Security Desk, which this evening had been coopted by City Health and thus was also part of a grand offering of reproductive health services. We put our brochures on the table, posted our tarps of different types of family planning, and piled the table with condoms and contraceptive injectables. Marcus and Aika checked out the tablets they are using to gather data for a base line survey of young people and their sexual experience. Our Youth Advocates gathered to pick up the tablets and set out in pairs, to get young people to take our survey, and to encourage interest in contraceptives, and in testing for HIV.
HIV testing was provided on site and for free by the Social Hygiene Clinic of City Health, in cooperation with Save the Children and Project H4. This important health initiative was spearheaded by Ms. Regina R. Villapa of City Health. UgatngKalusugan is delighted to participate in this project as it moves us closer in to the young people we hope to serve.
We teach in high schools, and give contraceptive services in our clinic – but here at Baywalk the mood is so different, so much more casual, and students, generally college students, respond so much more naturally, looking at our posters and brochures and asking earnest questions. Couples can take a few minutes to look, to consider, to talk to each other; last week one couple sat down and studied a brochure thoughtfully for some time, and then went together to our nurse to ask for an injectable contraceptive! Rarely do we get the feeling that a couple has considered their future so seriously, and supported each other so thoroughly!
Our teachers Aika and Ivann like to mingle in the crowd and start conversations, and Ivann is especially good at singling out teens who may be at high risk for HIV. If he can get them tested right then and there, this is a bonus for public health!
A young woman who apparently had been engaging in somewhat risky behavior went over for an HIV test, and during the 15 minute wait for the results, she came to our table and got our “Gwapong Nurse”, Mark to give her an injectable contraceptive.
Of course there is a lot of fun involved: our Youth Advocates are definitely bonding on these evenings, and bonding with the Ugat staff as well, as they “work the crowd”, encouraging people to get contraceptives, inviting young people to participate in our Youth Advocate training. We have been able to reach out to schools in which we haven’t taught in that way, and make new friends for Ugat. Ami and Marcus and I enjoyed talking to the City Health people and Yuan Sintoy of Project H4. Our new Korean intern, Hyun Ji, was a hit with YAs and several groups of teenagers who were just passing by. Aika made a small order from Jollibee for the YAs – who worked hard until after 8:00 when we rolled up our tarps and packed the table and our chairs back into the car.
Ugat staff went out to eat afterwards, well satisfied that it had been a good evening, and was a very good use of public space. And I couldn’t help think this is a brilliant new face of Public Health in our city!