YEREVAN (World Vision)–Deaf children or children with hearing impairments in Armenia seldom receive information on sexual health, leaving them even more vulnerable to HIV, other sexually transmitted infections (STI) and early pregnancy. Training sessions conducted by World Vision health specialists are striving to change that and the students themselves have been overwhelmingly receptive.
High school students in Armenia’s only School for the Deaf located in the capital Yerevan, participated in the training on safe sexual behavior, including HIV prevention, through the Armenian Apostolic Church representative who engaged World Vision health specialists and school administration.
Starting at the very basics because of the students’ lack of knowledge in this area, the sessions addressed the human anatomy and physiology of reproductive organs.
‘These children are already grown-ups; soon they will graduate from school and will probably start thinking of getting married and having their own family. Before these training sessions they had the most naïve and immature idea about sexual life and its possible threats’, said Zubeyda Melkonyan, a teacher of the Armenian sign language at the school.
Lack of access to any kind of information and unpreparedness of the teachers and parents to give the children all the necessary knowledge on sexual education makes them particularly vulnerable to many STIs including HIV.
“Deaf children or children with impaired hearing in Armenia are literally deprived of any chance to be educated on such important topics as sexual education, and I am glad they could find answers among health specialists who gave them the most clear and appropriate answers,” said Father Esau, the priest of Saint Trinity Church in Yerevan.
Father Esau has been trained and sensitized about HIV & AIDS through World Vision’s Channels of Hope program and is involved in a number of initiatives that respond to the spread of HIV in the country as well as to prevent HIV-related stigma and discrimination. Having learnt Armenian sign language, Father Esau has also become a good friend for the students of the School for Deaf; he conducts Bible Study classes at the school and tries to address their challenges.
When World Vision specialists were invited to conduct the session, they first undertook extensive preparatory work with the interpreter, so that they would effectively communicate to her and she to the students, since it is often difficult to convey different ideas and terminology through sign language.
The interpreter Zubeyda Melkonyan is concerned that having educated the children they also need to pass the same education to their teachers, school nurse and younger children as well.
‘We intend to continue our engagement at school and have a qualified teacher there who would conduct continuous education on the topic,” says Viktorya Sargsyan, Faith Partnerships/Channels of Hope Specialist for World Vision in the Middle East, Eastern Europe & Central Asia region.
Currently between 3,500 to 4,000 deaf people live in Armenia, and the School for the Deaf hosts some 200 children.