By Contessa Gayles, Ms. Foundation intern and graduate student in journalism at NYU
“I am a woman of color who had a child when I was young,” Paweena Prachanronarong, now 32 years old, tells Ms. “At that time, I was in school, so I had to drop out and had no income . . . I've been there, and if there is a way to help clear obstacles for people, I want to help.” Now, with an MFA in Design and Technology from Parsons, Prachanronarong is doing just that, using design and innovative solutions to help young women and girls of color in need.
For her fellowship, Prachanronarong is paired with the Ms. grantee Young Women United. The organization works to improve access to comprehensive sex education and health care, and to advance reproductive justice for young women of color in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where people of color are the majority. Young Women United was one of the leading organizations advocating for the passage of New Mexico HB 300. The bill, which was signed into law this past spring, establishes statewide requirements for public school districts and charter schools to enact policies that provide excused absences to pregnant and parenting students. This gives more students a fighting chance at finishing their high school educations, while simultaneously chipping away at the institutionalized stigmatization of young parents.
Continuing this commitment to youth empowerment, Prachanronarong is designing a tool to teach health literacy to Albuquerque’s young people. This goes beyond knowing how to decipher the label on a prescription bottle; it concerns everything from learning the difference between a school-based clinic and a public health office to patient-physician confidentiality to the local rules about parental consent for reproductive care.
This expanded definition of health literacy is increasingly important, as young people in the U.S. younger than 18 continue to experience poverty at significantly higher rates than adults. They need -- and have the right -- to know how to access and pay for care. And while the information is out there, it is rarely framed or communicated to young people in an accessible way. “The end result will definitely be something fun, like a game,” Prachanronarong explains. “This tool will also educate youth about their rights so that they can advocate for themselves.”
Here's more from the series on Ms.' 2013 Parsons fellows: Mapping ACA Insurance Enrollment: Lauren Slowik and West Virginia FREE
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