Through media and other powerful forces of globalization, the festivities of Valentine’s Day have spread all over the world. Millions of people of diverse origins, races, and religions celebrate love in the month of February. Lovers send each other heart-shaped cards and gifts to demonstrate their sentiments. From Bangkok to New York to Paris, shop windows are dressed in red and pink and filled with hearts, encouraging passerby to celebrate love.
Of course, the trend has also arrived in this small town in northern Thailand, and our girls are very much aware of it here in Chiang Khong. On the days leading up to Valentine’s Day, they talked about it continually, teasing each other about who would get more gifts. Some girls prepared their own gifts to give to their most beloved friends. On the day itself, everyone at the center – staff included — ended up covered in red heart-shaped stickers!
But at DEPDC Chiang Khong, we wanted to take advantage of Valentine’s Day to foster a deeper dialogue on issues of love and relationships. We organized two very interesting and much-needed workshops: Safe Sex and Safe Social Media.
The Safe Sex workshop was conducted by professionals from the local community. As our daughters reach puberty, the need for this type of training is evident. Some of them will soon turn eighteen and will leave the center, inevitably encountering the possibility of engaging in sexual relationships. But as sex remains a taboo subject among most hill tribe peoples and quality sex education is still rare in Thai schools, most young women and men approach sex for the first time uninformed or, worse, misinformed.
The Safe Sex workshop aimed to empower DEPDC daughters to:
- Be aware of the sexual nature of human beings with knowledge of their own female bodies and those of their male counterparts
- Protect themselves against physical and emotional threats related to sex, such as HIV/AIDS and unwanted sexual advances from others
In discussing such sensitive issues, the workshop used games and practical activities rather than lecturing on “do’s and don’ts.” The girls actively engaged in all the activities and even ventured questions!
For our second workshop, Khun Ness, an IT specialist from the local community, came to talk about safe use of social media. These days, relationships have evolved to a new level with the advances of communication technologies and rapidly increasing internet access in every corner of the globe. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media platforms provide virtually limitless opportunities to learn and connect with others. However, we noticed that most of the girls were unaware of the risks associated with these sites. A popular saying states, “Facebook friends are not your real friends,” and this is the message we wanted to pass on to the girls: think about who can see your profile, who has access to your pictures, who you are talking to, and so on. The Safe Social Media workshop taught the girls how to use features of Facebook and other social media platforms while encouraging them to use these websites safely and wisely. Khun Ness helped the girls identify potential risks on the internet and taught them how to protect themselves against these threats, so that their experience surfing the net is both fun and safe!