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The topic of sexual health education is commonplace in many cultures, taboo in others, but always critical in raising awareness about safe-sex practices. Wanting to help others take control of their sexual health, Barrett senior Susanna Rantanen traveled to Tanzania to teach HIV/AIDS prevention in several schools in Arusha.
Rantanen is no stranger to world travel. Born in Singapore and spending half of her childhood in Hong Kong, she visited a variety of countries before moving to Chicago with her family. Since then, she has taken every opportunity she can to journey overseas, most recently on trips centered around health empowerment and education in underserved communities. In the summer of 2017, Rantanen partnered with HEAL International as a Community Health Facilitator in Tanzania. She spent her days traveling school to school, educating children and adolescents on health topics including HIV, proper sanitation techniques and Malaria prevention.
To prepare for this experience, Rantanen enrolled in an eight-month training program that provided a comprehensive approach to sexual health education. Beginning in her own community of Phoenix, she led conversations for health with family, friends and local audiences, ensuring that these skills and lessons were transferrable to foreign communities. The program also required groups of facilitators teach these lessons, and Rantanen had to adapt to the individual teaching styles of her peers.
“The biggest challenge during the trip was learning how to work with people of different facilitation styles. We had a designated teaching group for the trip, and it was challenging at moments to come to an agreement on how we would all work together, equally contributing our ideas. At the end of the day, we all wanted to make sure we were giving our best to the community and playing to our individual strengths.”
This collaboration benefited the communities targeted for the workshops, culminating in a community day, which was a celebration of health and knowledge between the facilitators and those who attended their classes. Everyone gathered to play games with the community members, reflect on the trip and administer HIV tests upon request.
“My best memory from the trip had to be Community Day. I was able to see all of my students outside of the classroom one final time before leaving, which was very emotional but entirely gratifying. We truly made a tangible and positive contribution to this community in working toward an HIV free generation– 250 tests were administered and the community members felt extremely empowered to take control of their sexual health.”
Rantanen was also quick to note the relationships she had made, citing Tanzanians as some of the most loving and welcoming people she has known. She highly encourages all students to pursue opportunities abroad, even if it seems intimidating.
“Studying abroad was one of my best experiences at ASU. There are so many different trips and countries to choose from. This trip definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone, but it was so worth it and I was able to develop and grow on a personal and professional level.”