When I first became a volunteer with Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, D.C. (PPMW), I was excited to be dealing with teen and women’s health issues. It was my dream to be part of something that helps my community. What I didn’t know at the time was how important it would be to other young people to have someone their age sharing information that can keep them healthy and save their lives.
Since beginning my internship with PPMW, I find myself having a lot of conversations with my peers about crucial health issues, including how to protect themselves against HIV and how to get help finding treatment if they need it. I try to let my friends know that even if they don’t feel comfortable talking to me about the intimate details, they can come into our health center and talk to someone or even tweet their questions to @HeyPP.
I also figure out creative ways to help our health center workers reach my peers. I pack up condoms so that our Condom Crew team can go to popular club areas like Adams Morgan, U Street and Dupont Circle to hand them out and let people know how to correctly use condoms and other barriers like dental dams.
I love my work because I know for a lot of my peers I may be the first person who has ever told them where they can go to get accurate information about avoiding pregnancy and STDs. It’s often hard for young people to talk openly about sex, and in some homes discussing sex is taboo.
Also, many teens don’t receive comprehensive sex education or information about HIV in school. Only 33 states and the District of Columbia currently mandate school-based HIV education. As a result, too many young people are not getting tested for HIV, are not using condoms and are becoming HIV positive.
I believe it’s important for me to let young people know just how risky it is to have unprotected sex. I tell them, for example, that people ages 13 to 24 account for more than a quarter of new HIV infections in the U.S. every year, and that about 60 percent of young people with HIV don’t even know they have it. But I also tell my peers that there is a lot they can do — like practice safe sex to avoid becoming HIV positive and get tested and prevent passing it on if they do have it.
At Planned Parenthood we often say that we are “fighting for the healthiest generation,” and that means empowering young people to take responsibility for their health and well-being. One of the most important things I do as a volunteer is help other young people become confident enough to negotiate condom use and even ask their partners to go with them to get tested for HIV. I’ve seen through my work that once young people have the information, skills and access to the services they need, they become the best and most passionate protectors of their own health.
Recently, I went along with a couple of our peer educators to BET’s 106 & Park for the taping of its annual World AIDS Day special. As I sat in the audience watching my colleagues on stage sharing important information and facts about HIV, I couldn’t help but feel proud of my generation. The young people around me had a lot of good questions, and they wanted to know what they could do to protect themselves and others against HIV. Listening to them, I knew that we really can beat HIV and become an AIDS-free generation.
Chrishe Childs is a 17-year-old high school senior from Washington, D.C. She plans to attend college next year and later to become an OB/GYN.
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(Photo: Chrishe Childs)