|© UNICEF Lesotho/2005/ McKenzie|
|With a truck as a stage youth leaders from Qachas Neck use a string game to explain the spread of AIDS through Basotho society.|
By David McKenzie
QACHAS NECK, Lesotho, 18 January 2005 – It is rush hour on the Senqu River. A line of children snake down the mountainside and bundle into the metal rowing boat that will take them across the river. The boat slides with the rushing current and the young children pile out on the other side. They might have come here for fun – but they’ll end up leaving with knowledge that could help save their lives.
UNICEF and the government are embarking on a project to give children a voice in all ten districts of Lesotho. The project, a road show, could be the first step in an effective dialogue about AIDS among young people. And though it is cold in the upper reaches of the Maluti Mountains, the children still manage to come here and listen to what their peers are saying.
The road show mixes entertainment like talent shows, poetry, sports and dance, with life skills activities and educational tools such as a string game that demonstrates the spread of the disease. The combination of education and entertainment makes learning about HIV/AIDS a more engaging experience for young people. The youth are also encouraged to take an active role in their own protection. Counselors and HIV tests are made available at all road show stops.
|© UNICEF Lesotho/2005/ McKenzie|
|The road show gives children the opportunity to express themselves free from adult constraints.|
In Lesotho – as in other countries hard hit by HIV and AIDS – the key to prevention lies with its young people. When people started dying from AIDS here over a decade ago, they called it ‘Mokakallane oa Setlabocha’: the disease that comes with youth. And in many ways, it is an accurate description. Lesotho has the third-highest HIV rate in the world, but by far the worst affected are the young adults. Without effective intervention, the population of this mountain kingdom might feasibly disappear from its small patch of southern Africa.
“People are dying because of HIV and AIDS and we are trying to fight the virus,” says Ramalitse Maisa, a counselor working for the Lesotho government at the road show. “It is important for a person to know his or her status. Because the earlier she knows, the earlier she can get on treatment and she will be able to stop HIV from becoming AIDS.”
Health workers often struggle to get out into the mountains to reach those who are sick. In winter they are snowed over, in summer the rivers are often impassable. “These villages we are trying to serve are very far away from each other,” says Michael Ralikomelo, who goes into the villages to find the sick, “and it is hard for us to move into them because we are running short of transport.”
Lesotho is leading from the top in the struggle for people to know their status. The Prime Minister was tested publicly in Qachas Neck earlier this year, taking a step that few leaders in this region have made. And now government health officials are going door to door to test the people of Lesotho in an effort to achieve universal testing.
18 January 2006:
UNICEF correspondent David McKenzie reports on a road show in Lesotho that uses entertainment to educate youth about HIV and AIDS.
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