|© UNICEF Burkina Faso/2007|
|This young girl is part of a peer-to-peer HIV/AIDS education and prevention programme in Burkina Faso.|
By Jean-Jacques Nduita
OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso, 1 November 2007 – Every weekend, Oumou, 13, leads a peer discussion group to raise youth awareness about HIV/AIDS – including its consequences and how to prevent them – as part of a peer-education programme here.
“I’m not ashamed to make those of my generation understand that AIDS is a threat to us,” Oumou says.
During the group sessions every Saturday and Sunday, she leads the discussion, addressing what the other children may already know about the disease and correcting any possible misconceptions
“Every child might have heard about HIV/AIDS,” she says. “What I do consists in drawing their attention to how to avoid the disease, and avoid rejecting those who suffer from it.”
From tragedy to peer education
Oumou is well aware of the impact of AIDS. Her father died of the disease when she was just two years old, too young for her to remember the tragic details now.
After her father’s death, her mother could not afford to pay for Oumou’s education. Instead, she received support from the African Youth Network against AIDS (RAJS), the youth arm of a UNICEF-supported non-governmental organization that also chose her to be trained as a peer educator.
“The investment we made in Oumou, both in time and money, is surely paying off,” says RAJS chair Germain Nignan.
Youth commitment to fighting AIDS
Since 2001, RAJS has made HIV/AIDS-related discussions a reality in Burkina Faso though peer education in the almost 2,000 youth clubs comprising its national network.
Although more funds are still desperately needed to support such initiatives, the work of UNICEF partners such as RAJS is testament to the high level of youth commitment to fighting AIDS in Burkina Faso.
That commitment is underscored as Oumou describes her hope always to be available for those who need advice about HIV and AIDS.
“At first,” Oumou recalls, “it was not that easy. I was not sure I could make it. But now I’m glad to notice that many of the children I’m dealing with are conscious of the damage AIDS is causing in our country. When I finish my studies, I will become a journalist, but I will not abandon my assignment as a peer educator.”