Sex Ed: HIV & Health
Approximately 1.4 million people in Tanzania are living with HIV, according to UNAIDS. In Dar es Salaam, the HIV rates are especially high at about 7%. Fortunately, this number has been dropping over recent years thanks to efforts by the Tanzania Commission on AIDS and World AIDS Day initiatives.
The help2kids Health Project joined in on these initiatives for the upcoming World AIDS Day on December 1 by crafting an HIV/AIDS workshop for the students of Bajeviro Primary School.
“I learned how to prevent HIV/AIDS during the health workshop,” said one Standard 4 girl.
“It’s important to talk about this because it helps us learn how to protect ourselves from HIV/AIDS,” said another.
The workshop was first launched at Bajeviro because of the great number and variety of students the project could reach. The presentation, created by help2kids Health Project Manager Melisa Yorgancioglu and Health Project Intern Imerine Lyakurwa, was given to Standards 1 through 7.
Their goals were to explain what HIV/AIDS is and how to prevent it, to counter any stigmas surrounding HIV, and to encourage children to be supportive of those who have HIV or have passed away from it.
“That’s the whole point of World AIDS Day,” Melisa said, “to bring awareness to the issue and support to those who are affected by it.”
The workshop is especially important here because of the extremely high rates of HIV in the region. Tanzania, where 1-in-20 adults are HIV positive, is in the top 15 countries with the highest rates of HIV.
“Comprehensive knowledge about HIV is also low – less than half of young people [in Tanzania] have adequate knowledge. However improvements have been made in recent years. The percentage of young girls having sex before 15 decreased from 11% to 9%. Condom use has also increased, but is still inadequate, with only 34.1% of young men, and 41.5% of young women using a condom in the last year.”
- Tanzania Ministry of Health, via AVERT
EDUCATION AS PREVENTION
It is imperative that communities continue discussing HIV and how to take precaution. To introduce the kids to the issue, Imerine provided an in-depth overview of HIV/AIDS and everything that comes along with it. In her lesson she covered:
- What is HIV?
- How can HIV be transmitted?
- How do we prevent HIV?
- What do you do if you think you have HIV?
- How is HIV treated?
- What is World AIDS Day?
- What does the red ribbon symbolize?
The lesson sparked interesting and important questions from the children. As the day went on and the workshop audience increased in age, the engagement and prior knowledge of HIV increased as well.
“Standards 1 through 3 knew a little bit about HIV/AIDS,” Imerine said, “though they were most eager to watch the animated video afterward. But when I asked questions at the end of the session, the students knew the answers and I could tell they were really paying attention.”
The older standards were more interested in what Imerine had to say rather than the cartoon. They knew a bit more about HIV/AIDS from their Biology classes, but they still had many questions, such as: When is it okay to have sex?
“I learned that it is better to wait until I am older to have sexual intercourse in order to prevent HIV,” said one Standard 4 girl. “If I have questions about sexual intercourse and being safe, I will talk to my teacher or my doctor.”
With their limited knowledge on the subject, it was also important that they cover myths surrounding HIV. Can you get HIV from just touching someone? Can it be transmitted by mosquitos? What if you sleep in the same bed with someone living with HIV?
While these common questions were easily answered, one of the girls thought about more serious issues related to contracting HIV: “Could I have a baby? Will she have AIDS? Could I breastfeed my child?”
“Can I still live a long life?” another child asked.
Imerine assured the kids that while HIV can be very serious, it is no longer a death sentence. Available treatments have improved significantly.
“If you follow the treatment plan, you can live a long and fulfilling life,” Imerine told them. “You can get married, have children, and reach your goals and dreams.”
The session assured them that HIV/AIDS is manageable, but it also not something to be taken lightly. All of the children plan to exercise caution before engaging in sexual activity.
“I learned not to have sexual intercourse until I am 18 years old,” one boy in the workshop said. “When I am older, I will still be careful. I will use condoms to protect myself from HIV and will talk to the person I am having intercourse with to make sure we are both being safe.”
THE RED RIBBONS
With the prevention and treatment aspects covered, the session shifted to respect and support for others. Melisa and Imerine wanted the kids to see someone with HIV/AIDS as any other person and be supportive of the challenge they are facing.
“The red ribbon is a sign of support, understanding, and compassion for people who have passed away from the illness or are currently living with it,” Melisa said. “The older students did an activity where they created a large red ribbon, built with their thoughts about World AIDS Day.”
The Standard 6 students wrote messages about what they learned from the workshop on their ribbon while the Standard 7 students wrote words of encouragement for those living with HIV/AIDS.
“We hope that as the kids are looking for their note on the ribbon, they will see others’ words of encouragement or newfound knowledge and learn more about the cause,” Melisa explained.
The younger students will also be able to see the ribbon the eldest students made and look up to their example of awareness and encouragement. Empowered and motivated by the session, Standard 6 even asked if they and their peers could receive more education on the topic in the future, before they graduate primary school and move on to secondary school or the working world.
The red ribbon project and workshop at Bajeviro captured the theme of World AIDS Day: “Think Positive: Rethink HIV.” The session debunked myths, shut-down stereotypes, and showed how HIV can be managed. While many of the students were unaware or fearful going into the day, they emerged with the knowledge to make good decisions regarding sex and with respect for those living with HIV.
Workshops, seminars, and community events like this one will be occurring across the world on December 1, all aiming to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS.
With proper instruction, students will bring home what they have learned and share the information with their friends and family, spreading the message across communities and raising awareness about sexual health in areas that greatly need it.
CONTINUING SEXUAL HEALTH EDUCATION
In addition to HIV/AIDS, the help2kids Health Project is addressing other sexual health topics. The project seeks to provide holistic sexual education and foster the growth of informed, respectful children and teens at all of our partner projects.
That’s why our project has partnered with Restless Development, an international non-profit with programs in Tanzania. The organization has prepared a curriculum to lead Sexual & Reproductive Health workshops for kids ages 10 and up.
These lessons, led by local university students, will help the children understand the changes their bodies are going through and answer any difficult or embarrassing questions they may have. So far, these workshops have been held at the help2kids Children’s Home and Mwandaliwa Orphanage, The sessions are not only important to our partner orphanages (where children may not be comfortable asking the caregivers about sexual health) but to Tanzanian children as a whole.
“Like most other sub-Saharan African countries, Tanzania has a very young population. A third of the country’s population are aged 10 to 24, the age most become sexually active…Young people engaging in risky sexual behaviour (such as not using condoms), having multiple sexual partners, and first having sex before the age of 15 remain significant challenges in the country response.”
The Health Project hopes to hold the Sexual Reproductive Health session at all of our partner organizations so that children can be prepared and educated on how to stay safe. While help2kids provides students with resources now, we also want to prepare kids for adult life and give them the tools and knowledge they need to become impactful, healthy, and thriving members of their community.
1 Tanzania Commission for AIDS (TACAIDS) http://www.tacaids.go.tz/