In 2012 I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Lesotho, Africa and taught students about HIV/AIDS and other life skills. I was a really lenient teacher (especially for that culture) and the kids could ask me absolutely anything about sexual health. The students needed to have all of the facts when it came to their own sexual health because there with a quarter of the population infected with HIV, their lives counted on that knowledge. The students got used to my personality and knew that they could get by with a lot of goofing around in my classroom. My goal was as long as they knew everything I taught them about HIV/AIDs and how to prevent their exposure, I had done my job.
I had most of the same students at the beginning of my second year teaching Life Skills (they were just in a grade higher). For the first day of class, I asked the students to stand up, say their names, and share something they liked to do. Most of the kids stood up and said things like said “cooking” and “cleaning.” Keep in mind, their English was really limited so they mainly stated the hobbies that they knew the words for.
But then a normally quiet kid stood up and said, “My name is _____ and I like to rape” and made all of the students laugh. I couldn’t believe he’d say something like that. I walked over to him, pointed to the door, and sternly said the first thing that came to my mind — “Rape is not funny. Get out of my classroom.”
The boy begged me to stay. I told him no, I grabbed his backpack, and threw it outside. For the first time the kids saw I did in fact have a backbone and they were no longer laughing. The boy outside continued to knock on the door and ask to let back in, but I didn’t allow it. I mean, how could I? Not only is rape wrong in every way, but it’s also a huge factor in the way HIV/AIDs spreads in Africa and around the world. I wanted to be sure that these kids knew that, and that they didn’t think it was funny.
At the end of the class, the boy came and apologized to me. He knew what he said was wrong, and he never acted that way again. In fact, he was always helpful for the remainder of the year. Gender roles are very defined in rural areas like Lesotho, and girls and women are neglected and abused often. I just wanted to make sure the girls in my class grew up knowing that rape was not normal, and that they always have a say in who they have sex with.
Jenny Khalema continues to make the world a better place by helping people with their mental & physical health.