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Red Cross Program Talks to Young People about HIV/AIDS

Red Cross Program Talks to Young People about HIV/AIDS

Conversations about sex education are difficult for many parents and children, even more so in cultures where the subject borders on taboo, leaving young people uninformed and vulnerable. The American Red Cross and Tanzanian Red Cross have found a solution in that African nation.

The Red Cross is highlighting this program on World AIDS Day (December 1), an opportunity for people to come together in the fight against HIV/AIDS, which affects 35 million people worldwide.

In western Tanzania, villages line the highway that connects the country to Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda. As is often the case, disease can follow the same route as roads and the result is that the HIV rate in these communities is twice the national average.

In an attempt to keep children safe, the Red Cross began two educational programs aimed at teaching people about reproductive health and how to prevent HIV—one targeted at school children and one bringing youth and adults together.

At the Ushirombo Secondary School, a group of 10 boys and 10 girls are gathered after school for training. It is an intense five sessions that begins with classes on personal value and self esteem and then broaches topics like body development and sexually transmitted disease. The goal is that once students are armed with knowledge, they will become counselors to their peers.

The students are enthusiastic and engaged with a topic that could have brought embarrassment and giggles. They debate a variety of topics, answer true/false questions and play a card game that shows how quickly HIV can spread.

Eva, one of the class participants is excited to learn and says the class has not only taught her about her body and how to prevent HIV, but has also helped with her other classes because she is now more willing to ask questions.

“My favorite part of the class has been learning to value myself, learning about self esteem. We learn to support each other,” Eva said. She is a boarding student and is sharing the information she learns after each class with her dorm-mates. Eva can’t wait to go home for the holidays so she can teach her siblings what she has learned.

A few miles away down a dirt road in the village of Lulembela, a Daraja session is underway. Daraja means “bridge” in Swahili and the class aims to bridge the gap in conversations about reproductive health between parents and their children.

Through similar techniques of games, conversation, and debate, Red Cross volunteers broach topics like HIV prevention that are often difficult for families to talk about. The key to the class is having both youth and adults in the same classroom so they can learn from each other.

Felisiani, 16, is taking the Daraja class for the first time. “I was surprised to hear that adults wanted to be told if young people were being pressured to enter into sexual relationships by other adults,” he said. In a culture where young marriages are still very common he assumed adults would trust another adult, more than a young person.

Benedictor, an adult participant, was happy to gain new skills that will help him speak with his daughters. “My wife is gone and I wasn’t sure how to talk to my daughters about these topics, but now I know I must to keep them safe and healthy,” he said.

Global statistics and more information about HIV/AIDS can be found at: aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/hiv-aids-101/global-statistics

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