Bringing sexuality and relationship education to young people in a modern, western society is challenging enough. How then do you take this education to hill tribe children, living in the remote North of Thailand where English is rarely spoken? Surprisingly, a small but passionate group based in Perth, Western Australia is doing just that, with amazing outcomes.
Borderless Friendship WA, (BFWA) was formed in 2010, to support the efforts of Borderless Friendship Foundation in Thailand. Its aim is to enhance the lives of hill tribe children living in Northern Thailand, by providing a safe environment, sufficient food, and access to education.
Although the BFWA’s primary concern is to keep hill tribe children safe from sex trafficking, which is rife in this area, it would seem that very few, including the Australian government, are willing to fund the education that is the key to that safety. After being unsuccessful in an application to receive funding from AusAid for a second time, BFWA President, Dr Lorel Mayberry created a plan to fund bringing two hill tribe leaders to Western Australia to do the much acclaimed Mooditj Leader Training. This training would enable them to run a Mooditj program, which helps young people learn about identity, puberty, emotions and feelings, relationships, sexual health, being a parent, and assists them to identify and work towards goals and dreams.
With escalating rates of STIs and HIV/AIDS, and very high incidence of human trafficking, particularly of children, the need for an innovative and open approach to sexual health education was required. The Mooditj training was the corner-stone of a program to bring a much needed and suitably tailored program to these ‘at risk’ children. These children seldom have an opportunity to take part in any educational workshops, and certainly not those that cover puberty, sexuality and relationships. The program was designed to deliver all these things in a way that was interactive, engaging, culturally appropriate, and delivered in their own language.
Pramote and Yadaw arrived in Perth to attend the week long Mooditj Leader Training and to thank the many supporters in WA. Like most people, they had no previous relationships and sexuality education, so it was with some trepidation that they attended the first day of the 5 day program. They loved the Mooditj workshop and the inclusive philosophy of Mooditj. They also valued meeting other Indigenous people from around Australia and hearing their stories. Most of all they loved the new found freedom to talk about sexuality and were inspired, excited and felt well prepared to conduct the first Lahu Mooditj workshop at an orphanage in Kae Noi, a remote village in Northern Thailand.
The two day workshop (and accompanying community forum on sex trafficking) was a resounding success. The training covered a wide range of topics, including sexually transmitted infections, contraception, personal safety and diversity. Every participant, including the carers at the orphanage, reported that they had learned much and looked forward to more education in the future.
Inspired by the success of the first training, and using the feedback and evaluation received, three weekend workshops have followed and peer educators trained. The weekend workshops take place in remote areas with more than 200 young people and carers accessing the workshops. Thak Eua-Amnuay (son of Pramote and Yadaw) who had travelled to WA earlier in 2014 to also attend the Mooditj Leader Training, headed up this session as co-ordinator and facilitator, supported by his parents and Lorel, who had once again travelled to Thailand to assist with this event, among other BFWA activities. The participants were treated to lots of beautiful food prepared by Yadaw and her sister. The way the plates were piled high was a sure sign it was appreciated very much.
With an expanded program, and a larger number of participants, the Mooditj workshop again instilled new and appropriate knowledge to young hill tribe people. Participants came from different communities (Lahu, Akha and Karen tribes), some travelling up to four hours to attend. Once again, all involved reported a vast increase in their understanding of sexual health and an increased confidence to talk about sexuality.