|© UNICEF video|
|A volunteer from the Nigerian Youth Service Corps speaks to young people and local leaders in Gombe about HIV/AIDS education.|
By Guy Hubbard
ABUJA, Nigeria, 4 August 2008 – Nigeria's youth are leading the call in the fight against HIV/AIDS, using knowledge as their weapon in classrooms and on the streets.
This life-saving work is being accomplished by members of the Nigerian Youth Service Corps (NYSC) – a national one-year programme which has been mandatory for university graduates since 1977.
The NYSC and UNICEF, have been working together to combat HIV/AIDS since 2003. Volunteers are now hard at work, raising awareness and bringing valuable life-skills to their towns and villages.
NYSC members who volunteer for the programme undergo six days of intensive training in HIV/AIDS prevention, care and support.
“So far, the Corps members we have trained have reached out to over six million people in the villages, schools and, of course, the major cities of this great country,” said the Director General of the NYSC, Youssef Bomoi. “That means we have everything we need to make this campaign succeed.”
From cities to villages
The NYSC is active throughout urban areas of the country, such as the capital city of Abuja and Gombe State in North Eastern Nigeria. However, NYSC members also routinely travel to rural areas. Volunteers first ask for the support of local leaders and then work to end stigma, raise awareness and encourage HIV-testing among the communities.
In some rural villages, residents have even organized festival activities around the visit. When the queues are long, people can be entertained by music or dance performances while they wait.
However, it is in the classrooms that the programme is having its greatest impact. NYSC volunteers train students to work as peer educators, encouraging them to teach their friends and families about the disease. This educational 'domino effect' is helping to reach approximately 160,000 young people each year.
Felicity Okeke, 17, is one such peer educator. She holds meetings in the street outside her house where she teaches young people about the life-skills she has learned from the NYSC members.
“We have to call our fellow students to tell them 'you have to stop running about with boys, running about with girls – you have to concentrate on your studies. HIV/AIDS is true. It’s real',” Felicity said.