|© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2007/See|
|A group of young people dressed in yellow campaign caps attend the launch of the UNICEF-supported 'It’s time to talk' campaign in Dili.|
By Bridgette See
DILI, Timor-Leste, 21 August 2007 – In Timor-Leste, HIV educators have been using code names for parts of the body during their educational programmes. This, they say, makes it less awkward to talk about sexual reproduction and HIV with young people.
“Initially some of the young people were angry. They said it was immoral to mention those terms in public,” said Domingos dos Santos, from the local non-governmental organization Fundasaun Timor Harii. He and colleague Amelia Carlos train young people to be HIV peer educators – an activity that is supported by UNICEF.
Ms. Carlos pointed out that only a few young people from each of her sessions were aware of sexually transmitted infections. “When we show the models of the genitals, they’re so shy. The girls hide behind their hands, while the boys tend to joke a lot,” she said.
‘It’s time to talk’
Timor-Leste cannot avoid talking about HIV any longer. On an island of less than 1 million people, even the known cases of HIV may be only the tip of the iceberg. HIV testing is currently limited to three centres in the capital, Dili, and thus is not widely accessible to most people.
For the first time, a bold campaign led by the Ministry of Health is urging young people to find out more about HIV/AIDS and, more important, to take preventive action. Under the slogan, ‘It’s time to talk’, this UNICEF-supported government campaign is now entering its third month after a national launch in June. All 13 districts in the country have begun training sessions, parades, outreach programmes and activities.
“This campaign is viewed by UNICEF as a very important first line of action to break the silence about HIV and AIDS,” said UNICEF Timor-Leste HIV/AIDS Specialist Bridget Job-Johnson. “Experience from across the world has proven that young people are particularly vulnerable to HIV.”
Active youth participation
Rosario (not his real name), 27, is one of the many young people who are actively participating in the campaign. Last year, he discovered he was HIV-positive. Now, as a volunteer in the HIV campaign workforce, he wants to share as much information as possible to prevent others from getting infected.
“So many of us don’t have clear information about HIV/AIDS and are scared,” he said. “I want to encourage people who are positive to get treatment and information, and stay away from risky sexual behaviour and shared needles.”
As part of the campaign, 80 ‘master trainers’ were taught to conduct HIV workshops with over 1,500 campaign volunteers, who would in turn pass on the information to 40,000 youths in their communities.
Key steps towards prevention are being taken in Timor-Leste with the ongoing efforts of the government and its partners, as the information campaign helps to break the silence on HIV/AIDS.