By Monique Jafta (YES 2013-2014, South Africa, hosted by AFS in Kendallville, IN)
In 2015, I attended a health and wellness workshop in Dakar, Senegal. My biggest take away from that workshop was that health and wellness are not only about the physical health of a person but also his or her mental and emotional wellbeing. Due to gender and sexual inequality at my university, many students feel oppressed and abused. Some have been physically attacked because of their sexual orientation, and others have resorted to suicide. Joined by my fellow residence committee members, I held an LGBTQI information session on August 15 for 150 students. The event was funded by a YES alumni grant and sponsored by the Human Rights Office of the University of Free State.
The aim of the session was to educate students at our university about gender and sexual equity, and how to embrace differences in sexual preference. Our guest speaker, Zane Thela, works at the Human Rights Office of the University of Free State. He is a transgender individual who gives many similar talks in Bloemfontein to spread awareness and understanding. During the presentation, we defined what it means to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, etc. We found that many people do not know the difference, and do not know how to handle situations in which a family member or friend opens up as identifying as such. After the presentation, we had time for Q&A. I am very pleased to say that the participation and willingness to ask questions and learn more about this topic in a caring manner was overwhelming. Attendees asked so many questions that we had to stop due to lack of time, and many asked if we planned to hold another event soon. The new Rector of our university, Professor Petersen, also made an appearance to show his support of the event.
From the feedback and interaction of the students, I believe this event was a successful small step towards embracing each other’s differences on my university campus. I encourage other YES alumni to hold informative events like this one at their colleges and universities. I am merely one person and cannot make a huge impact alone, but with the help of others, we might be able to change the world.