Education as defence
Education is the the best defence!Teaching people about how HIV/AIDS is spread, and how best to protect themselves from it, is the best way to help stop the disease from spreading. Schools are the best place for this, especially for girls. Girls who stay in school longer tend to marry later and know more about HIV prevention and HIV testing.
Even when young people do know about HIV/AIDS, many do not protect themselves because of the attitudes of other people their age. Peer pressure plays a very important role as young people often follow what others their age do. For example, they may feel pressure to have sex if this is what their friends are doing. Drug users are also likely to share needles if that’s what their friends do.
When young people are taught about HIV/AIDS they not only learn how to protect themselves but also not to hassle HIV/AIDS sufferers. Education is important because it separates the facts from rumours. Often stigma surrounds people who have the virus – this means they are treated differently, like outsiders, and made to feel ashamed. People do not talk about HIV/AIDS openly in some countries because they see it as a disease that infects only “bad” people. But when people are taught about HIV/AIDS they learn that it can affect anyone. This also leads to more people getting tested instead of believing that they could never be infected.
Although it seems straightforward to educate people about HIV/AIDS, it is actually very difficult to reach a lot of people at risk, especially adults or young people who work. Many are left out of the community and might not be able to read information on HIV/AIDS. But education doesn’t have to be through schools only, whole communities can learn about HIV/AIDS through sports events, drama and other inventive ways, as follows:
At the Feyenoord Football Academy in Ghana, teenagers are teaching their peers about HIV/AIDS and how to reduce the risk of infection. The players, who have been trained and given education materials, organise peer education sessions in the academy’s community, and more importantly, for their fans in places where football tournaments and recruitment matches are held. When the students travel home for the holidays, they also pass on their new knowledge and skills about how to prevent getting HIV/AIDS. In their communities they are regarded as football stars and heroes so they are listened to.
When twenty-three year old Orange Samilo spoke to a crowd of people in her home country of Papua New Guinea about having HIV, many were surprised that she admitted it. She warned them to practice safe sex and use condoms because she didn’t want anyone else, “especially your young women,” she said, to get HIV like her. She also wanted people to stop seeing HIV as shameful because “it’s not true”.
Young people bring hopeEducation has been proven to have a brilliant effect on reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS in some countries. Young people need to not only be taught about HIV/AIDS but they also need to learn skills to help protect themselves against HIV/AIDS – such as how to make decisions, how to stand up for themselves and how say no. These skills help them to be confident and postpone sex until they are old enough to protect themselves against HIV/AIDS or unwanted pregnancy.
Between 10 and 14 is the best time to educate children because this is when they learn about good behaviour that affects their whole lives. It is much easier to teach children than to get adults or young people to change their ways. In every country where the HIV rate has been cut down, the biggest drop has been amongst young people.
Using young people to educate other young people through special programmes is an excellent way of communicating with kids who do not go to school.
Peer Educators 'Kicking AIDS Out' of Speyside, Trinidad and Tobago
A UNICEF supported programme called 'Kicking AIDS Out' (KAO) was recently started in Speyside. This is a small community where education is needed to prevent the further spread of HIV. Kalifa Martin, 15, is one of the young trainees who is involved in the education programme.
"I heard there was an HIV workshop at the community centre and decided to go and learn more about HIV, because I knew it was important to get the right information," Kalifa says. "What I wasn't expecting was that I would learn about it through games and fun activities. I liked this and invited my sisters to attend and we are now all involved in the programme."
Growing up in Speyside, Kalifa saw firsthand how HIV and AIDS can affect a small community.
"When something happens to one person, it affects the whole community," she says. "I want more people to get tested and start making wise choices. I would like Speyside to be an example to other communities."
Since her training, Kalifa has conducted many KAO workshops - where lectures are replaced by educational games that resonate with young people. One such game is similar to dodgeball, except that in the KAO version, being hit with the ball symbolises being infected with HIV. The message is that anyone and everyone is vulnerable to HIV infection.
"It is through projects such as KAO that UNICEF hopes to empower young persons such as Kalifa to actively re-create their communities as places where young persons make informed choices," explains UNICEF Officer Marlon Thompson.
There are currently 20 peer educators like Kalifa in the KAO programme. Kalifa knows that the initiative is having positive results. She has seen her peers in Speyside become more knowledgeable about HIV and AIDS, and then readily share their knowledge with their family members and friends.
The programme has also changed Kalifa, who now dreams of becoming a doctor. "I want to help people living with AIDS and even find a cure for it," she says, smiling.
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