Today is my last day as an employee of Education For Choice. In my three years as a reproductive rights advocate and educator here at EFC, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some incredible people. The 3,000+ teenagers I’ve worked with in sexual health workshops, and the 3-400 nurses, teachers, youth workers, and other professionals I’ve trained, have taught me an immeasurable amount about the world and myself. I hope some of you are reading this so that I can thank you.
And having learned so very much from you incredible people, I would never be so pretentious as to offer you any advice. But please indulge me as I reflect upon my time here and consider some of the lessons that have meant the most.
1) If they call you Mr. Scrooge, don’t take it personally. Forget Fodor’s. Want to know the real deal about budget hotels in England? Ask an EFC staff member. We’ve stayed in every town from Weymouth to Wakefield, keeping costs down for training commissioners by staying in affordable places. Natalie’s an expert on water pressure, while Lisa feels passionately about bed firmness. In Somerset, one of my favourite training areas (the people are just so dang friendly!), I once arrived late at night to a village hotel with rooms named after Dickens characters. Was I placed in Mr. Pickwick? Oliver Twist? No. I was Mr. Scrooge. I may have arrived with a London frown, but I left with a West Country grin, as always! On a more serious note . . .
2) The kids are alright. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: despite minimum support and maximum scrutiny, the teenagers I’ve met in inner London schools are doing wonderfully. Not only are UK teens ten times more likely to volunteer than to commit a crime, but so many of them are working hard to protect and promote their own sexual health and wellbeing. Sure, I’ve had some rowdy classes- but I have never had a student in a workshop or presentation about pregnancy say “I don’t care about this.” As I wrote a couple weeks ago, the evidence backs me up.
3) The kids are not alright: Young people are up against a lot. Despite a lot of brilliant service provision out there, many barriers remain to young people accessing sexual health services- stigma, inconvenience, and lack of support can make protecting yourself hard. And while some teachers are providing excellent sex education, many young people still go without.
But what really gets my goat? Anti-choice organisations reach tens of thousands of young people in schools each year. In implicitly school-supported presentations, they lie to teens, claiming that abortion causes infertility, breast cancer, insanity, or worse. In all types of schools across the country, they show graphic pictures depicting what they claim are abortion procedures. They deliberately confuse and upset their students. They make me very angry. It’s not okay to lie to anyone, but it’s especially not okay to lie to kids, in schools, about real-life health questions.
But there is so much to be excited about and grateful for (pardon the prepositions), and for me, topping that list are Barbara, Jennifer, Laura, Lisa, and Natalie, the EFC staff dream team. Really, they are my heroes. A big thanks also to Andy, Becca, Geetha, Juliet, and Sarah, our amazing trustee board.
One last thing. As our brilliant patron Polly Toynbee recently said, “EFC is a small organisation that packs a huge punch”. How do we do it? For one thing, we eat a lot of biscuits. For another, everyone works too hard. But finally, we rely on the support of people that understand the importance of this work. Believe in reproductive rights? Care about young people? Want to support small charities? Give to EFC. A little to you each month is a lot to EFC.
Thank you to EFC for one of the most incredible learning opportunities I’ve ever had, and thank you to the brilliant young people and professionals I’ve worked with- keep up the amazing work!