UNICEF program helps educate children about HIV and AIDS
YANGON, 31 January 2005 – A battle is raging in the classroom at Primary School Number Seven in Kyimyindine Township, on the outskirts of Myanmar’s capital city of Yangon. It’s a battle between the forces of HIV and the body’s immune system acted out by a dozen children for the benefit of their 11- to 13-year old classmates. When the role play is over and the young “actors” sit down, seventh grade teacher Daw Khin San Nwe carefully explains to her students how HIV affects the human body.
Life-skills classes that educate children about the danger of HIV and AIDS are taking place up and down Myanmar as part of a programme called the School-Based Healthy Living and HIV/AIDS Prevention Education (SHAPE).
“I have learned a lot about HIV/AIDS and how to prevent it,” says 11-year-old Myat Pan Ei Khaing. “I will avoid drug use and contaminated needles, and other risky behaviour.”
The SHAPE programme, which was introduced by UNICEF in 1998, is now part of the national curriculum in Myanmar, reaching more than 1.9 million children in more than 14,000 schools. Through this programme, UNICEF has supported the training of more than 54,000 teachers on a range of health and social issues, including HIV/AIDS, personal hygiene, nutrition and drugs – knowledge that they can pass on to their students.
According to this year’s UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children report, the estimated HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in Myanmar among people 15-49 years of age in 2003 was 1.2 per cent.
Dr. Tin Mar Aung, UNICEF Myanmar’s Assistant Education Project Officer, says the programme has been adapted to ensure children really understand the lessons. Children are encouraged to voice their opinions, and three children share each textbook to encourage discussion about the material.
“By just performing activities, the teachers as well as the children won’t learn life skills,” she explains. “That’s why we’ve developed our training around discussion, so the children and teachers can learn more about the critical thinking process. It’s through this process that the lessons become personalized and internalized, and that’s when we know that these young people are really empowered to protect themselves against HIV/AIDS.”
Shaping a brighter future for out-of-school children
Some children and young people in Myanmar come from families so poor they’ve had to quit classes to go to work. This makes them even more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, and the threat of HIV and AIDS. For these young people, UNICEF and its NGO partner Pyinya Tazaung (PZT) offer “SHAPE Plus” – a similar programme that puts out-of-school youth in touch with positive young role models, such as 19-year-old Aye Myat Mon.
In a “SHAPE Plus” class on the banks of the Yangon River, Aye Myat Mon and her young colleagues Zin Mar Narng and Maung Khin Win teach their students to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills so they can deal with the challenges they face. They encourage the young people to discuss personal safety and come up with strategies to avoid situations where they might be vulnerable to sexual assault.
“They are very vulnerable to AIDS because, unlike school children who receive instruction, these children have no knowledge of this disease,” Aye Myat Mon explains.
They also have to find ways to earn their livelihood, and this means they may have to go out to unfamiliar places, where they can be exposed to many potential risks. By teaching them [life skills], they can acquire knowledge about HIV/AIDS, and learn ways to protect themselves.”
Both the schedule and the learning environment of the SHAPE Plus classes are less formal that traditional Myanmar schools. The young facilitators, who are trained by UNICEF and PZT before assuming their duties, call their students “brother” or “sister”, fostering a sense of family amongst the group. Through their dedicated work they’re helping change their communities for the better – one child at a time.
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