Shante' Speed is a public health education student at North Carolina Central University: "I have been interning with Ms. Elizabeth Johnson to better improve my own knowledge of how past abuse affects the health and wellness of women. I will be graduating in December as an entry-level health educator."
I started this internship to gain a better understanding of what it means to be a health educator in the real world. Ms. Elizabeth assigned me various tasks to improve my overall knowledge and understanding of how abuse affects survivors. As part of my internship, I was given the amazing opportunity to silently observe Ms. Elizabeth Johnson’s peer-led sexual abuse survivor support group sessions, over the course of eight weeks.
This specific survivor support group consisted of eight women, all from various backgrounds, professions and age groups; despite their differences there was never any division among the group or a time where the ladies could not understand or relate to what each other was going through or experiencing. I always felt welcomed and like a part of the group as I silently agreed, laughed or sympathized with each experience or emotion shared. I grew more inspired with each group as the women would trustingly share their vulnerabilities and have them reciprocated in a positive way. Each group session was unique but I especially loved how the ladies were always able to give one another encouragement, motivation and even advice. I was able to see transformations in each of the ladies over the eight weeks, an example of this is how these wonderful ladies were often able to joke and laugh together about progressions that they have made or about situations that at one point would have made them cry. They would share their struggles from week to week and whether or not it was related to their past abuse they could all relate through commonalities in their own lives.
I do not identify as an abuse survivor but many times I was able to find my own commonalities with this group of women related to trust issues, uncertainty, and setting personal boundaries. This made me more aware of the fact that even though we all go through different experiences and have different struggles, regardless of age, race, or socioeconomic background; we are all trying our best to get through life and we all learn as we go, no one is perfect. Observation of a support group taught me that the most important part of being a health educator is to genuinely care and respect any population that you work with.
Another thing that made this experience invaluable for me as a health educator is that this group reminded me to not be so quick to judge others or their actions because they may literally be doing the best that they know how or can at that time with what they have. Yes, being a health educator means being professional but you must also be able to relate to others, be relatable and understand how they feel--not judging the people you work with is very much a part of that! I can honestly say that each survivor, including Ms. Elizabeth, has taught me that being a health educator is not always about finding a solution and fixing a problem, sometimes it is about just listening and being there for others and asking them what they need or want from you so you can better help them to improve their health.
Ms. Elizabeth has taught me that being a health educator is so much more than the seven roles and responsibilities and that I am able to help improve the health of those around me in non-traditional ways. We cannot understand or know what someone has been through or is going through by simply looking at them from the outside. By allowing me to observe these group sessions these ladies have given me insight and awareness that I could never get from any book or classroom.
Note from Elizabeth: my next sexual abuse survivor support group begins in January 2017. It will be free, open to female survivors of sexual trauma and held in Durham. Click here to let me know of your interest.