UNICEF promotes healthy lifestyles in Gaza
Gaza, 13 April 2010 - When 16-year-old Yasmine Sufi told her mother what she was learning at an after-school programme, she says her mother was surprised.
"Why do you have to learn this?, she asked me," says Sufi. "But when I explained, she understood."
Sufi was learning about preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS in the conservative society of Gaza.
Last year, UNICEF and its partners trained more than 140 peer educators in HIV/AIDS prevention, communication skills and promoting a healthy lifestyle, including prevention of substance abuse. They, in turn, will work with their peers to help disseminate what they learnt.
"We wrote a story about this illness, how it is spread, and will explain it to the other kids," says Sufi. “There are ways that it is spread – through sexual contact – that are hard to talk about,' but Sufi says that she is learning not to be shy.
Prevention through education
Trainers are being educated in preventive programmes on HIV/AIDS, drugs and alcohol, says Mahmoud Abu Nimeh, a coordinator for UNICEF's partner Ma'an Development Centre.
"We tell them that we don„t have a lot of cases [in the occupied Palestinian territory], but we are trying to keep it that way," says Abu Nimeh.
"As children get older, awareness on HIV prevention is spread by young people to their families and and throughout the Palestinian society."
There are no reliable statistics on the number of Palestinians infected with HIV.
"We learned that this diseases causes millions of deaths per year," says 15-year-old Ibrahim Deeb. "Now, I am confident that I have acquired the essenetial skills for HIV prevention" adds Deeb.
UNICEF and its partners work closely with teachers and religious leaders to help them implement healthy lifestyles programmes.
Awareness-raising sessions were conducted for some 950 students attending government schools and UNICEF-supported adolescent-friendly spaces. Forty two advocacy workshops were held with nearly 2,000 religious figures, youth leaders, parents and officials. The programme is funded by the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
"HIV/AIDS may not be widely present in our society," says Sheikh Muhammed al-Attal. "But by raising these issues, we prevent the spread of the disease".
"By training young people with the right information from informed sources – teachers and trainers – we ensure that they don't get the wrong information from television or the internet," says the religious leader.
He says that UNICEF should expand its programming to continue training several hundred women and children a year in HIV/AIDS awareness.
"We, too, have benefited from these programmes," he says, “and we now present these ideas in our sermons [at Friday prayers]."