In a time where each daily news story unveils yet another attack on reproductive health and social justice issues, today we wanted to write a different kind of story – one of hope and a brighter future. Enjoy.
What does it mean to be a Peer Educator?
Since there is no standardized sexual health curriculum in Montana (or the US in general), 17 dedicated high school students meet weekly at Bridgercare to discuss reproductive health and healthy relationships. They then provide education to their peers, both formally and informally. The Peer Education program has been going for 25 years, and for the past 2 years, it has been co-facilitated by Bridgercare and HAVEN.
What does it mean to Clare to be a Peer Educator?
Clare moved to Bozeman in 6th grade and has two little brothers. She works part time at La Chatelaine, is a part of the Project X2 Club at Bozeman High, has a boyfriend, and likes to paint, draw, hike, and adventure outside. Clare joined Peer Ed at the beginning of her Junior year in 2017.
“The Peer Educators came into our Sex Ed class sophomore year and I learned so much. I thought it was awesome!” Clare said reflecting back on the first time she learned about the Peer Education Program. “Being a Peer Educator is amazing, honestly one of the most fun things I have ever been a part of. It feels so helpful to be a resource for the community – my friends, family, even strangers. It really opens a line of communication for so many people.”
Since becoming a Peer Educator in the fall of 2017, Clare has been a formal educator in classrooms throughout the Gallatin Valley, ranging from elementary age kids to her peers at Belgrade and Bozeman High Schools. And her role as an informal educator is just as important. From giving younger friends in orchestra advice on how to keep themselves sexually healthy, to connecting a peer to critical resources when they experienced sexual assault, to providing emotional support to a classmate who needed to schedule an appointment at Bridgercare, Clare is able to empower those around her to take control of their health and their future.
“It has changed the way my friends treat me. They see me as a safe resource and I now feel capable to deal with all situations. I feel like I can be open with everyone and they can do so with me in return.”
This past March, Clare applied to represent the Episcopal Church at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. The 2018 Commission’s focus was “Empowering Rural Women and Girls”. Clare was one of 20 accepted to represent the Episcopal Church and traveled to New York City to attend the two week conference.
“It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done! I met so many incredible women who are on the ground changing the world. It puts the whole world in perspective for you, honestly.” Some memorable highlights for Clare included meeting Geraldine Byrne Nason, a UN representative from Ireland, and Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General.
Also, after some prodding on our part, the humble 17 year old divulged that her comments on “culturally appropriate healthcare” had been included in the final draft from the 2018 UN Commission document. When asked what prompted her to raise her hand and her voice in front of experts from around the world, Clare stated “I spoke up because of my time in Peer Ed. I really came out of my shell in this group. Peer Ed gave me the confidence and communication skills to speak up in front of any group, regardless of who is in the room.”
Clare will be a senior at Bozeman High School this fall. Because of her experience both in Peer Ed and at the UN Commission, Clare is interested in studying political science and international relations in college, and hopes to intern with Jon Tester in the near future. Clare also hopes to return in 2019 as a representative for the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
“I love EVERYTHING about Peer Ed! At every meeting, I learn more about reproductive health, consent, and how to be a good ally.”
We are grateful to Clare for sharing her story and to all of our Peer Educators for the continuous dedication, passion, and enthusiasm they bring to Bridgercare and our community as a whole.