Taboo topics such as sexual diversity, sexuality, gender inequality, HIV/AIDs, and domestic violence are rarely discussed in my community. There are not many forums where these topics can be explored by youth in an honest and open way. In collaboration with the Public Library, my site has initiated a “Gender Equality through Shared Words and Photos” project that will be a platform to enable youth to think critically, investigate other cultures and their own, reject gender norms that encourage violence, and become better informed citizens of Nicaragua.
Reading stories that foment discussions of leadership, gender inequality and violence, HIV/AIDs, and the importance of education will challenge youth in all areas of spiritual and intellectual growth and development. Some youth in Boaco, Nicaragua have never read a book before, let alone as a part of a group. With the motivation and support to read an entire book, youth will build positive self-esteem and identity. We hope that, through participatory learning and social action, youth will become empowered to find creative solutions to make change in their community.
Starting this year, we will be reading three books:
The first is I am Malala (Yo Soy Malala), which delves into the life of 17 year old Malala Youzsefi, a 17-year old Nobel Laureate from northwest Pakistan and an advocate for gender equality. She has risked her life for her education and the education of girls throughout her home country of Pakistan and the world. The values and ideals she fought for are those that we hope to instill in our Nicaraguan youth. Often we take our education for granted, even though there are many youth here who do have access to education. Also, through reading Yo Soy Malala, we will discuss gender equity in Pakistan and investigate this gender equity, across cultures, religions, and histories.
The second book we will be reading is called Why me? (¿Por qué a mi?) by Brazilian author Valéria Piassa Polizzi. It is a stunning memoir from her perspective as a 23-year-old HIV positive woman. In her description on the back of the book, she jokes that, “Do you know what being HIV positive means? It means that I have the AIDs virus. Are you afraid? Don’t tell me that now you want to put this book down and run to disinfect your hands because you’re afraid of getting infected!” This line grabbed our attention and that of our youth as well. We chose this book because we wanted to dive into discussions of stigma and discrimination towards those who live with HIV. On the second page, Valéria shares, “You must be imagining that I am promiscuous, that I do drugs and if I were a man, that I would be gay. I regret to inform you that it has nothing to do with any of those things…very simply, I had unprotected sex.” These are a few of the stereotypes that plague the minds of youth when talking about people living with HIV and how it’s contracted. Through this book, we hope to change those mindsets and explain how gender norms affect HIV transmission. These norms must change to improve health outcomes in the community and reduce the spread of HIV in Nicaragua.
The third book we will be reading is called The Ugly One (El Feo). El Feo broaches topics of self-esteem, depression, and conflict resolution through an intense, fast-paced story. From the perspective of a high school teacher, he tries to unite those suffering from various difficult situations. It has been a very popular book among youth who visit the Public Library, and is written by the well-known Mexican author, Carlos Cuauhtémoc Sánchez.
After we finish reading, all youth will participate in a Photovoice project. The Photovoice project is an outlet for youth participants to record and reflect on their community’s strengths and concerns. Our goal is to focus on gender inequality, promote critical dialogue about gender issues, and foster social change at both the individual and community level. The youth participants will take asset-based and needs-based photographs of their community with a social question in mind. Once photos are taken, there will be group discussions and analyses of the photographs whereupon we will give titles and narratives to accompany each photo. The final session of the project will be the exhibition of the photographs at the Public Library to celebrate their experiences and knowledge gained in the reading club.
The Photovoice project encourages youth to connect photography to their own voices and allows them to use photos as a way to tell a story of themselves and their community. Through the Photovoice project, youth can become leaders and advocates for gender equality to improve the health and safety of the community.
I’m excited to get started! I cannot wait to learn from our leaders we will be reading about and about the youth who are getting involved. I’ll be sure to keep you updated with how the reading group goes! Please visit WorldConnect to learn more about the project and our funder. (Peace Corps Volunteers – be on the lookout for further information and help from the GAD Nicaragua committee on how to run a similar project in your site.)
I encourage everyone to read these three books to broaden your own world view, cultural understanding, and ideas of gender norms. Let me know if you have any questions, comments or suggestions. Happy reading!
– Rachel, HE 63