SECSE 2014: What an Experience!

The 2nd edition of the Southern European Cooperation on Sexual Education (SECSE) conference took place in Catalonia on September 4th-7th and was hosted by AECS-Catalonia near Barcelona (Spain). The conference allowed participants to discuss sexual health education across their national member organizations (NMOs) and to share methods whilst learning from each other. The theme of this 2nd edition was Transsexuality and Transgender Identity.

The 12 participant NMOs are Greece, Italy, Croatia, France, Malta, Spain, Catalonia, Portugal, Turkey, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Serbia. And as last year, some externals also were present, coming from Switzerland, UK, The Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Egypt and Lebanon. 

Below, a few words from the participants on their experience:

The Pre-SECSE took place from the 31st of August to the 3rd of September, it was divided into two workshops: an IPET and an Advanced IPET on Sexuality. Throughout these days we got to learn everything about Peer Education, we developed our soft skills and we improved our knowledge in many areas related to sexual health and sexuality.

The first day of the SECSE started with the welcome session for all the participants in Barcelona and a tour around the old town. Later on, we went to the venue and had an awesome welcome party AECS style, which obviously involved a lot of fun and team building. The Method Exchange sessions started on Friday, approaching topics like negotiation during sex and basic sexual education among many others. Furthermore, we had the first Theme Event session, a round table about gender identity where three amazing externals exposed their view on the topic.

On Saturday, the remaining SECSE countries facilitated their Method Exchange sessions, addressing more specific topics like HIV testing  its social implications and gender based violence. In the afternoon, a plastic surgeon gave us a conference on sex reassignment surgeries and we also had a session on how to create new Peer Education methods. Sadly,  SECSE came to an end,  after getting plenty of feedback from the participants we had to say goodbye and put an end to one of the most awesome experiences (if not the most) AECS-Catalonia has ever experienced.

We thank AECS-Catalonia for hosting the event! You can find pictures from the event on our Facebook page right here.


EMR 10 – Reflections from my region

Last week, I had the honor of attending the 10th Annual Regional Meeting of the Eastern Mediterranean Region in IFMSA and it was special for many reasons. Firstly, it was my first IFMSA meeting as an official, and for it to be in my region where I served as Regional Assistant just last year made it all the more special. But more on this later.

Secondly, it was the first time we carry out an Ipas Training on Maternal Health and Access to Safe Abortion in the EMR region. I was lucky enough to be the facilitator of this workshop and boy was I nervous. But my nerves quickly calmed down when I got to meet the amazing participants and see their enthusiasm for a subject that I thought would have been impossible to speak about in our region. Also thanks to the surprise addition of SCOME officers (one Liaison Officer and one Regional Assistant, you know who you are) in our workshop, we got an outside perspective that was fresh and completely unexpected seeing as both had had minimal SCORA experience or interest in the past. Still they came back and that was a testament to the spirit of the sessions which was meant to be inclusive and understanding of differing points of views, and to allow for meaningful discourse where there had been none in the past. At the end of our workshop, evaluations were extremely positive with many saying they wanted to go back home and read more about this subject in the hopes of finding ways to advocate for their patients’ rights! Also, many loved the idea that this topic had never been spoken about previously in their medical schools or IFMSA for that matter, and wished we would  speak about other topics that are often not openly addressed in SCORA due to their “controversy”. And all of this from a region that is often deemed too conservative to even make an effort to speak about such issues.

That’s the thing, many people are surprised when I speak about the SCORA work that goes on in my Region, often saying how is this even possible? How can someone speak openly about HIV and AIDS in the Middle East? How can one speak about women’s rights? About LGBTQI issues? About female cutting (formerly known as FGM)? How can we do anything when there’s so much to be done? And that’s precisely the point!! My Region has so many areas that are unchartered with respect to SCORA work and that is why our work is so amazing. From Jordan to Iran, Egypt to Lebanon and Iraq, medical students are noticing that there’s something wrong in how sexual and reproductive health rights are being dealt with and their doing something about it,with a full understanding that small steps can later make a big difference! And boy are they making a difference! Whether it be through educating over 1000 peer educators in Egypt or getting over 200 women to get checked for breast cancer in Jordan, or fundraising over $10,000 for CD4 count tests in Lebanon, EMR SCORA is shining.

Which brings me back to my first point, of being an official who’s work started in this Region. Having seen my region grow over the past 4 years truly makes my heart swell to a size I never knew it could. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it a million times, hearing of all of the amazing work that is happening in my region makes me feel tiny in comparison. Yes I happen to be an International Official in IFMSA, however, my job is simple: to make sure the work of every SCORAngel shines! And having been lucky enough to see all of the amazing work in the EMR on display last week makes my job all the more simple. So hats off to you EMRians for inspiring me everyday! And a special thanks to the lovely people in Kuwait who helped organize this amazing Regional Meeting, as well as my lovely Regional Assistant Sanam, you’re truly heaven sent! And lastly, all of SCORA does amazing work, I was just lucky enough to be able to witness the work in this Region first hand and identify with the struggles these SCORAngels face on a daily basis. So they have a special place in my heart, but IFMSA-SCORA, you are an amazing beast so let’s see what else this year has to bring!!

IPAS Training – Maternal Health and Access to Safe Abortion

This last week, I, along with three of my amazing RA’s and our lovely LRA Kelly Thompson, got the opportunity to attend a training of trainers on the topic of maternal health and access to safe abortion, hosted by the organization Ipas in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The training was part of a Memorandum of Understanding between Ipas and IFMSA, to hold trainings on these issues in three of our regions in IFMSA: Africa, EMR, and PAMSA. The training lasted for four days and I must say was one of the best trainings I have had the honor of attending in all my time in IFMSA, and here’s why.

  The topic of safe abortion is not one to be taken lightly. For many people, it brings up a lot of ethical and religious issues. And way too often we choose to not even speak about it instead of treating it as a common medical procedure. So common in fact that 1 in every 3 women in the US will have such a procedure at least once in their lifetime. Not only that, in 2008, 22 million women underwent an unsafe abortion with a reported 47,000 deaths and 5 million women suffering from disabilities. The problem is real and the fact is that it is 100% preventable. By providing proper safe abortion procedures, these women can be saved.   And it all starts with opening a discussion. So that’s exactly what we did, for four days we discussed with the amazing people at Ipas how we can best give a workshop about safe abortion within the IFMSA. And I must say that I was very impressed with the results and couldn’t be more excited to see the outcomes of these three pre-RM workshops. Ipas is an organization with more than 40 years experience in the field of maternal heath and safe abortion and they work on the ground in almost every continent. They face challenges and stigmatization every day to make sure that any woman who wants such a procedure can get it done in a safe and healthy environment. Their work is utterly inspiring and am so excited that we get to embark on this joint venture with them. Furthermore, the outcomes of these workshops will be used to finalize a joint training guide between Ipas and IFMSA SCORA!So I encourage anyone who is interested in working on this issue to please attend the RM workshops. And for those of you unable to attend a RM, then we will for sure be discussing this more within the upcoming March Meeting in Tunisia!