By ETR | August 1, 2019
Emma Schlamm’s got activism in her blood. Born and raised in New York City, she shares a birthday with both Malcom X and Ho Chi Minh. Following her urban upbringing, she chose a small town community for college—Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the heart of Amish country. “This was a fascinating experience for someone with a big-city background,” she recalls, “and it fueled my interest in learning about other cultures and communities.”
Emma double-majored in Sociology and Spanish Literature and did a junior year abroad living with a family in Argentina. While there, she contributed to research on obstetric violence—the circumstances where a woman has little autonomy, choice or power over the process of pregnancy and birth. This might include things such as not being able to decide who’s present during a birth, not being offered choices about care, or experiencing verbal humiliation, physical violence or unnecessary medical procedures.
“We were working in communities where the C-section rate was close to 30%!” Emma explains. “The World Health Organization suggests the ideal rate should be 10-15%, so something was obviously going on in the culture of pregnancy and childbirth there that was putting a lot of women at unnecessary risk.”
Emma joined up with local activists to participate in protests for women’s rights. There are a number of laws in place in Argentina designed to protect women from obstetric violence. The protests and rallies helped bring attention to these issues and educate citizens about their rights.
“This was an incredibly inspiring experience for me. Every day when I walked to school, I would pass the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who have been protesting against the human rights violations of the Dirty War every single Thursday afternoon since 1973,” Emma says. “I learned from the Argentines how to be an activist, and how to protest—and Argentines know how to protest. They shut things down. Public transit, major highways, nothing is off limits. People in positions of power are forced to act and make change.”
A few weeks after completing her college studies, Emma moved to Oakland with nothing more than one suitcase in tow. “I was ready for a big change,” she explains. She got a part-time internship with a post-abortion hotline program called Exhale. She needed more work, and one of her colleagues said, “Why don’t you check with YTH? They’re just two floors down, and they’re a great organization.”
Emma followed through. She loved what YTH was doing. They brought her on board. “I’m so lucky to do this kind of work that I care about so much,” she says.
Last March, the YTH team and ETR joined together. As part of what is now the YTH Initiative at ETR, Emma contributes to a variety of programs related to teen pregnancy prevention and mental health.
One of the projects Emma supports is ZonaSegura, or “Safe Zone,” a teen dating violence prevention program in Honduras. ZonaSegura is a digital solution to address the high rates of teen dating violence in Honduras, using WhatsApp to deliver positive, informative messaging on violence prevention.
“An informed young person is able to make better health decisions,” Emma tells us. “We worked with Honduran youth to choose the best way to share the information and the most important messages to deliver. Youth leaders developed the messaging themselves.” The youth Emma spoke with wanted to have these kinds of conversations with their parents, but their parents often lacked the knowledge or skills to participate. “Parents are a key ally in these efforts,” Emma declares. “They are often a forgotten population.
ETR has a set of six organizational values. One is “Responsive to Emerging Needs and Trends—We innovate and respond with new and tailored products and services.” Emma finds this particularly resonant. “This is the beauty of the YTH Initiative coming into ETR,” she affirms. “We are doing everything we can to be responsive to the needs of young people. We gather information from youth and we deliver programs they actually want to use. I see YTH being a sort of microscope—we’ll be learning from youth about their lives, and then we’ll infuse that intelligence and information into ETR’s ongoing and future projects.”
ETR is grateful that our work is also being infused with the energy and commitment of outstanding staff like Emma Schlamm. Thank you, Emma!