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PPMW Global Youth Ambassador teams up with Reach a Hand Uganda

When it comes to educating young people on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), Alicia Florian-Rabanales feels right at home — even when she’s on another continent. 

Alicia is a health educator with Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, DC (PPMW). She spent last summer working and learning with the nonprofit Reach a Hand Uganda (RAHU) as a Planned Parenthood Global Youth Ambassador (GYA) in Uganda. Now back in Washington, DC, she continues her service as an ambassador, welcoming international colleagues to the U.S. as they continue to learn from each other about effective approaches to sexual and reproductive health education for youth. 

As an experienced community educator with a passion for growth and building connections, Alicia was perfectly positioned to make the most of her first solo traveling adventure. She saw the GYA program as a distinctive opportunity to grow as a sex educator while learning how best to navigate an increasingly connected world. She wondered where she would see similarities and differences in how she and her colleagues approached sex education.

Alicia (seated, PPMW) and GYA colleague Milani Naik in Uganda

Connecting through media

Alicia got her start as a peer health educator, and supporting young people in learning from each other has remained one of her core passions. For this GYA experience, “I knew that I wanted to do something with peer education specifically,” she shares. “That is what Reach a Hand Uganda focuses on.” 

Florian-Rabanales attended learning sessions through RAHU’s Peer Training Academy, where they discussed the common challenge of engaging youth on challenging and sensitive topics. In this area, she noticed, RAHU excels. 

“They have a social media hub that is dedicated to giving sexual and reproductive health and rights information through podcasts and TV shows,” she explains. “They stream all their events, so whenever they have outreach events they’re on camera streaming it.” 

Meeting young people where they are, on the platforms where they’re already spending time, is a priority for Florian-Rabanales in her work at PPMW, and seeing RAHU’s approach was eye-opening.

Alicia poses with RAHU educators in Uganda

Different cultures, common questions

Florian-Rabanales explains that the cross-cultural exchange of ideas and tactics is valuable in the SRHR space in particular. Why? “We’re all fighting the same fight,” she says, while also creating and adapting teaching techniques to fit different contexts. 

She was struck by notable similarities when it came to the Ugandan and American approaches to the topic of sexual health. “In Uganda, it’s basically an abstinence approach, and we find that in some states here in the United States as well,” she says. “It was interesting to see how, basically, we have the same struggle despite being in such different parts of the world.” 

In the area of reproductive health, Florian-Rabanales leads menstruation workshops for young people in the DC metro area, and she had a chance to teach the same workshop to Ugandan youth at multiple high schools throughout Kampala. 

She and fellow educators facilitated multiple workshops with classes of 20-25 students. All of the sessions were live-streamed by the RAHU social media team, including Florian-Rabanales’s program on menstruation. At the end of the day, the students were treated to concerts featuring local celebrities trained by RAHU to speak to youth about sexual and reproductive health a unique and exciting approach for Florian-Rabanales to see. 

While the role of menstruation in society may be different across the continents, “It was fun to do that workshop in Uganda and to see how the questions the youth had were similar to the questions of youth in the U.S.,” Florian-Rabanales says. For her, the similarities in questions asked by young people from different nations demonstrates young people’s universal interest in better understanding how their bodies work and the importance of sexual health education for young people all over the world.

Alicia runs an educational session alongside Eddlyn Guerra of TAN'UXIL

Ongoing connections

Back in the states, Florian-Rabanales’s work as a Global Youth Ambassador is far from finished. She’ll soon host one of her Ugandan counterparts on their own exchange experience, during their stay in Washington, D.C.

Beyond the exchange, her experience as a Global Youth Ambassador also made her the perfect host for recent visitors from Guatemala. Members of TAN UX'IL, a Guatemalan organization providing sex education to adolescents, visited D.C. as part of their exchange with another Global Youth Ambassador from Texas. During their time in the District, she gave these ambassadors a tour of PPMW, providing detail on the programs and health services the affiliate provides. 

These experiences reinforce for Florian-Rabanales the importance of reaching across national and cultural lines to find common cause in a mission of pressing global importance: directly empowering young people through sexual health education. It is this mission that first inspired her to become involved with Planned Parenthood and that motivates her now. 

Florian-Rabanales is proud to answer the pressing questions young people have about sexual health, whether at home or abroad, and to be someone they can rely on for clear, honest answers and support. “Growing up, I didn’t have anyone to ask those questions,” she shares, “so I wanted to be that person."

Tags: Planned Parenthood Global, Youth, sex-education, GYA, Uganda

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