This week has easily been one of the most gratifying weeks of my life.
My Peer Mentors have put in a lot of hard work towards getting ready for this HIV education campaign, and it is very clear.
It helps that this kids are incredibly bright and gifted in a variety of ways- but the hard work and dedication ... that's been the key.
It has been a real pleasure to go into all the classrooms and watch as these guys so easily demand respect out of their peers by using their skillful facilitation and passing on their solid understanding of HIV. They set the tone when talking about sex and anatomy by being super professional and demonstrating a level of maturity that has blown me away!
I have witnessed several "a-ha" moments that good teachers become so addicted to seeing on the faces of their students. I truly believe, with the bottom of my heart, that our combined efforts have really set a lot of learners straight about many of the myths and facts that are going around the community- and there certainly are some interesting myths going around.
There have been a lot of interesting comments and questions that have come from the classes. Some kids want to know, is sex a form of exercise? - To which I answer, "why yes ... sex CAN be a sort of exercise- but so can running in front of a train! ALWAYS USE A CONDOM!" CONDOMS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
One of the most rewarding moments of the campaign was after my kids ran one of their amazing sessions, and a young man from grade 12 came up to me afterward, thanked us for what we were doing, and asked if he could join in the efforts. YES! Yes. Yes, my dear friend, you can.
It's really encouraging to hear the kids at the school talking about the campaign- and they are. They're excited about learning about the virus, and I think they're really excited to be talking frankly about sex.
It has become so incredibly clear that an Abstinence Only form of education would be so completely ineffectual, preachy and ridiculous. Through the questions the kids have asked, it is ABUNDANTLY clear that a large portion of kids are having sex. Behavior change is hard enough as it is ... to try to get them to stop having sex when they've already started is a far cry from realistic. I want these kids wearing condoms. Condoms!!!!
We will support the kids who are choosing not to have sex by affirming their behavior and encouraging abstinence as their safest and most reliable protection against HIV, other STIs, and "falling pregnant."
By the way, the term "falling pregnant," while referring to a very serious situation that can range anywhere between devastation and jubilation, is a rather hilariously tragic term.
One of the biggest, hottest topics in the classrooms is always the topic of testing.
People are terrified of testing. And indeed, I can't very well blame them.
I remember taking an HIV test myself in order to join Peace Corps, and it was completely uncomfortable. And I cannot even think of a single time in my life where I may have been exposed to HIV- but the fear still resonated in the core of my being. "What if I DO have HIV? What then?"
I could hardly imagine the kind of fear that some of these kids would be facing. It is obvious that many of these kids have been engaging in unprotected sex. The infection rate among adults in the village is around 40%.
There is ample reason to be terrified.
We have also been promoting a healthy lifestyle, and been working hard on encouraging people to support those living with HIV- and they've really seemed to respond to the message. We've been working towards addressing the stigma of testing. I think this generation has been inundated with information about HIV- this week has been focused on trying to help them sort out the good information from the bad. They've been made aware of the fact that HIV is a problem in this country- it's been our impetus to make sure that people recognize that this problem is one that they need to own themselves.
One thing has become pronounced- the kids in the Peer Mentors have definitely owned the battle against HIV as their own battle.
During almost every class, after we've announced that we're putting on a testing drive at the school, there's been a wild reaction. A lot of "Aw hell nah!"s, and a lot of other, assorted, mixed reactions. It's got the kids talking. They're talking to their teachers about their fears, their reluctance to know their status ... it's a big deal.
This next week will be more hard work.
We'll see if we can pull this event off.
Wish us luck.