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Mar 17, 2016

Healthy Living: Belize Family Life Association’s Chit Chat

Chit Chat – a program executed by Belize Family Life Association since 2013. It connects curious youths with accurate and age-appropriate sexual reproductive health information using technology. In tonight’s episode of Healthy Living, we find out more about this innovative service.

 

Marleni Cuellar, Reporting
In 2013, the Belize Family Life Association launched a text based service for youths. Melanie Montero, is the director of education and programs at the BFLA, she is also the lead volunteer for the Chit Chat Helpline Service.

Melanie Montero, Director of Education & Programs, BFLA

“We realized that even after the office has closed, we still have young people and parents who are contacting us through Facebook, sending us emails, texting our cell phones asking for support, for information, for referral to services, etc. So we decided to set up a system where they can still access information even when the traditional clinics are closed and the libraries are closed, they can still have access to some sexual & reproductive health information.”

 

Melanie Montero

To access Chit Chat, users text a short code to subscribe. They then become subscribed to weekly information about what they call “sex and stuff”. The language is deliberately youthful, even using the popular text language. Users can send key words to get general facts about just a specific topic or they can used the live chat option, which allows for them to send via text, their personal questions or queries.

Melanie Montero

“It’s not a medical advice helpline; when you sign on you have the option where you can subscribe to the service to receive weekly tips. So it gives out like safer sex tips and just information about sexual reproductive health we think are noteworthy that young people or the general public should know. So every week you get tips…for example of there is a change in policy or the availability of new contraceptive services and things like that.”

 

The live chat feature is only available from six a.m. to ten p.m. and the questions are answered by a volunteer team at the BFLA which includes a trained counselor, a sexual and reproductive health educator, a nurse and gynecologist. In any case where referrals are necessary, the helpline provides the details of the nearest healthcare facilities and checks back to find out if the user did indeed follow up.

 

Melanie Montero

“It has been responding quite well to a lot of the gaps that we have in the health system in terms of accessing information and knowledge about specific services. For example we did some extensive education on the morning after pill. And it was amazing to see the number of persons who had a totally wrong conception of what the morning after pill was or is. We have a lot of questions about genital health like what’s normal, what’s not normal. We have a lot about sexual dysfunction. A lot of queries also come about relationships, family relationships mostly about parents. Like what should I do, my parent doesn’t like my girlfriend or my parent doesn’t want me dating, but I have a boyfriend. Things like that and kids troubling with issues.”

 

Chit Chat also sends reminders for scheduling pap smears, HIV tests and other health services. The service currently has over two thousand users from all over the country.

 

Melanie Montero

“Nobody else was doing it; 911 doesn’t work like that and earlier in the introduction of the service, we did several focus groups countrywide with young people and adults and for some reason the texting service seemed very attractive…more than the voice service. They felt that because of the questions and the things they wanted to ask, the fear is that somebody would recognize their voice over the telephone. So it was easier with the texting. And because it is interfaced with a computer program, it is basically anonymous.”

 

While they have been able to get occasional short term funding for the helpline; their major recurrent challenge is the cost of maintaining it.

 

Melanie Montero

“Our major challenge is financial support to keep the program going because it is not free. We purchase services through digicell and it costs us just as much the user out there because it is not discounted, it is not subsidized in any way. So that’s an ongoing cost that comes along with it. In terms of giving young people information to make informed decisions is not an option; that’s their right. Every young person is entitled to information and education to keep them safe so that they can grow into productive adults.”

 

To subscribe to chitchat helpline: text the word “SAFETXT” to 604-1911.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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