|© UNICEF Turkmenistan/ 2007/Lyngstad|
|Aybegench, 15, and teacher Maysa Mukammetkuliyewa study material from life-skills training carried out at their school.|
By Bjørn Lyngstad
ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan, 30 May 2007 – Knowledge about the risk of HIV and how to prevent AIDS is very low in Turkmenistan. Less than one in eight women is able to identify the four ways the virus can be transmitted.
Thanks to a life-skills training programme, however, the pupils at School Number 45 in Yoloten Etrap, eastern Turkmenistan know more about HIV and AIDS than most adults in the country. They are now aware that HIV can be transmitted through sexual intercourse; by sharing contaminated needles; via blood transfusion; and between mothers and children during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.
“Many of us used to think that HIV could be passed on even by somebody just breathing on you. Now we know exactly how the virus is transmitted and how we can protect ourselves,” says Aybegench Tugunova, 15, “Most of our parents, relatives and neighbours don’t know these things. Although many people have heard about HIV/AIDS, they have not received any in-depth information about it.”
Not afraid to discuss AIDS
“Our pupils are pioneers,” says teacher Maysa Mukammetkuliyewa. “Through life-skills training, pupils are encouraged to take their newly acquired knowledge back to where they live so that it benefits all generations and the wider community.
And students are not afraid to talk about HIV/AIDS openly.
“We discuss these things outside school,” Aybegench noted. “We also talk about AIDS with our peers from other schools, where they don’t get this information. We enjoy learning life skills because it is different from other subjects. It is important in our daily lives to know what is harmful to us. It helps us develop our own views.”
Students and teachers benefit
Since 2005, when School Number 45 started receiving support through a UNICEF project, life skills have been emphasized both in regular classes there and at a local youth club. Topics include drugs, infectious diseases and how to behave in public settings generally. Sport, art and health activities are also on the agenda at the youth club.
Some 40 teachers from the school and neighbouring School Number 1 have received special training on life skills, some attending workshops in both the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, and the regional capital, Mary.
According Ms. Mukammetkuliyewa, the teachers enjoy the life-skills sessions.
“Students are very active participants and are eager to learn,” she says. “Because of new methodologies and the emphasis on interactive learning, teachers and students get much closer to one another than they normally do, and the students ask questions, discuss amongst themselves and express their views and opinions.”
Resource centre broadens horizons
In addition, UNICEF support has enabled the school to build a resource centre equipped with a computer, maps, atlases and games.
“We really like using the computer, and it gives us an opportunity to learn some English,” says Aybegench. “Also, since UNICEF began supporting our school we have started to explore what UNICEF and the United Nations do.”
Adds one of the girl students: “UNICEF gave us a world map, and we can’t stop looking at it.”
When asked if studying the map makes them curious about other countries, the students respond with a chorus of “Yes!” This reply is followed by a list of places they would like to see: “Paris, Spain, London…”