Experts of our own Lives: Shared Leadership in Peer Facilitation

By Claire O’Gorman, Peer Education Manager

We all know a thing or two about our bodies. We may not be experts in physiology, psychology, or epidemiology, but we do all know what makes us feel good, and who makes us feel good. In this sense, everyone has knowledge about health, relationships, and harm reduction, which is exactly the kind of information needed to help make decisions around sexual health.

Peer facilitation is an approach to education that acknowledges each person’s lived expertise. Information is shared as peers – not as experts in health, but as experts of our own lives. In this way, everyone in the room acts as both teacher and learner. In a peer model, workshops are facilitated rather than taught so that everyone has an opportunity to contribute to the group.

Peer education gained momentum in the early 1990s after health educators finally figured out that people would prefer to discuss ‘tricky’ subjects like sex, drugs, and relationships with people who share common characteristics rather than with their teachers or parents. Which makes total sense. So at YouthCO, we have our own Peer Facilitation Team, which takes the principles of peer education, facilitation, and shared leadership to facilitate harm reduction and sexual health workshops with youth throughout the Lower Mainland.

YouthCO’s workshops aim to address the stigma attached to sex and HIV by creating safe spaces where youth can have honest dialogue, ask questions, and learn what’s important to them. We hope to break down barriers to health by recognizing how social structures influence our choices, and by empowering youth to make informed decisions.

Our unique workshops happen in a variety of places with a variety of people – in schools, community centres, and drop-in spaces. We use games, interactive activities, movement, and visual tools to include different learning styles and promote engagement. In this way, our workshops promote the skills, knowledge, and attitude for youth to become leaders in their own lives and communities.

The Peer Facilitation Team are a group of youth who meet once a month to develop workshops, improve facilitation skills, and discuss the best ways of sharing information. Through a commitment to shared leadership, the PFT recognizes the knowledge and skills in one another to work as a team. YouthCO provides PFT members comprehensive facilitation training that builds confidence in creating safe spaces, giving and receiving feedback, and group facilitation, further developing leadership skills within our community of youth.

In recognizing our lived experiences, knowledge is shared rather than taught. And through facilitating an exchange of this knowledge, YouthCO’s Peer Facilitation program moves beyond being just about information to creating communities that help lead the HIV and Hep C movement.

To book a YouthCO workshop, or to learn more about joining our Peer Facilitation Team, visit www.youthco.org

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