Over the course of my 12 week immersion this summer, I have observed many needs and issues within the realm of maternal health, as well as in cultural and social realms. While living with Dolores, we have conducted prenatal visits in 7 different towns in her local vicinity. I quickly became familiar with this area and began to see the needs that are present regarding maternal health and education.
When we go on prenatal visits, we either travel by bus to meet at the home of the midwife local to that specific town (where pregnant women are waiting), or we travel to the homes of the women for the checkup. At our largest visit we had fifteen women in attendance. Though there have been a few older women, the grand majority of clients are between the ages of 13 and 17, some on their second pregnancy.
The first appointment I attended was at the home of a girl named Guadeloupe. She had recently turned 17, has a 2 year old daughter, and was eight months pregnant. At another prenatal visit, we approached a small home and all I could see was the long black hair of a young girl cleaning corn. When she turned around the story became different as it became evident that she was six months pregnant. 13 years old, living with her mom and siblings, she no longer attends school, and will not have the help of the baby's father to raise the child.
Each time Dolores comments about their ages saying "pobresita" (poor little girl), and praying something could be different. Feeling the weight of the needs I was seeing, after this particular visit, I asked Dolores about sex education in the schools here, to which she replied that there is none. I then expressed how education must begin in the home, or the cycle would continue. Dolores agreed.
This cyclical pattern necessitates education in order to yield something different for future generations here in El Salvador. However, the education needed for these young women should reach far beyond understanding their physical bodies. For this pattern to change, women and girls must realize that they are more than objects of sexual gratification for young boys and men.
Change will come when girls value their own self-worth and believe that they have a father who loves them. I believe this education will come from the word of God that empowers and heals women. I find hope for this change when I think of the Samaritan woman Jesus finds at the well in John 4. She was part of a poorer social class, had been married to five men, and was living with a man she was not married to. However, Jesus sought to make her whole by offering her living water. He spoke words of life to her, invested in her when no one else would, and demonstrated that she was worthy of such love. The woman received an education at the well that brought her life and caused her to value herself. I have hope that the women here, both young and old will come to a place where they feel worthy of the love of God.
Along with the very essential education that comes from God's word, sex education will help girls to better understand their bodies and the consequences of partaking in sexual activity at such a young age. Educating women and girls about their bodies coupled with the life-giving education that comes from God will combat the cultural and societal norms that have existed for the past generations. I personally feel responsible to educate and empower the least of these, and this begins with valuing them enough to face the needs and take responsibility for bringing change in their lives. I am thankful for the months that I have spent here in El Salvador this summer. What I have seen will inform my on-going education and preparation to bring holistic change in this area.
written by: Elise Buckner