Healing Presence

TeenSTAR Revisited

Teaching teens to value human sexuality is one of hundreds of ways in which Medical Mission Sisters around the world try to be a healing presence to those in need today.

In 1980, Sister-Doctor Miriam Paul (Hanna) Klaus, an obstetrician-gynecologist, launched a new program to educate young people about the value of sexual abstinence. She explains that TeenSTAR (“Sexuality Teaching in the context of Adult Responsibility”) was designed as “a counterweight to the prevalent contraceptive inundation approach to youth, in an effort to stem the tide of teen pregnancy and abortion.”

Born in Vienna, Austria, Sister Miriam Paul entered the Medical Mission Sisters in 1957. After serving seven years in Pakistan and in what is now Bangladesh, she returned to the U.S. and began lecturing in the Billings Ovulation Method of Natural Family Planning (NFP). After several years in St. Louis, in 1975, she became Director of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at St. Francis Hospital in Wichita, Kansas. Moving to Washington, D.C., in 1978, she worked for two years as Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at George Washington University and practiced as an obstetrician/gynecologist.

TeenSTAR places a high value on possessing fertility rather than either acknowledging it abstractly or isolating fertility from one’s self concept and from the body by the use or drugs or devices. The TeenSTAR program, which is funded by USAID’s President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program in Uganda and Ethiopia for the prevention of HIV/AIDS transmission, has led to increased self confidence among teen participants, enhanced their ability to resist pressure to engage in unwanted activities, especially sexual intercourse, and has led them to make their own decisions. TeenSTAR is now available in 27 countries on 5 continents.

Nearly 56,000 students have graduated from TeenSTAR programs. Almost 140,000 members of communities have received information about HIV/AIDS and how to avoid transmission. Many have enrolled in TeenSTAR clubs whose function is mutual encouragement and outreach. “Most people put contraception and abstinence on the same line, but there is a huge difference in controlling behavior through respect versus isolating fertility,” says Sister. “Contraceptive programs have very limited effectiveness in that regard.”

In conjunction with its program, TeenSTAR hosts parent meetings where the instructors explain what will be taught to the children. The program is careful to be sensitive to what parents have already chosen for themselves regarding family planning.

In later 2012, a new Executive Director was named for TeenSTAR. Awarded by many groups for her work, Sister Miriam Paul will remain active in its many program components.