Impact on children: youth development and HIV prevention
Youth Development and HIV Prevention
HIV/AIDS is starting to decimate the education system. Almost 1 million AIDS orphans are under the age of 15; girls are often forced to stay at home to look after sick family members, and many teachers are themselves becoming victims of HIV and AIDS.
Sexual activity, the main route of transmission of HIV, begins in adolescence. Yet young people remain alarmingly uninformed about the most basic facts about HIV and prevention.
However, even when they have the information they need, that in itself is not enough to make them act. Young people need to develop LIFESKILLS to help them negotiate life and to make informed choices about sex, drugs and personal development. Young people also need child/youth friendly spaces that are sensitive to gender and provide voluntary and confidential HIV testing and counselling as such matters are not easily discussed at home or schools.
GEM, lifeskills and personal development for young people
UNICEF provides a forum for lifeskills, personal development and youth leadership workshops at community level, organised in cooperation with the schools and districts via the Girls Education Movement (GEM), launched in South Africa in 2004.
GEM is an African network for improving girls’ education led by girls themselves with boys as allies, and adults providing the wisdom of age, working towards transformation of learning in Africa.
Through clubs at community level, the children discuss action on issues such as safety and security of girls, HIV prevention, equal opportunities in Science, Maths and ICT, gender equality in curriculum and teaching/learning processes, lifeskills and education for girls with special needs and limited resources.
The Lifeskills component of GEM helps demonstrate how young people’s personal development can be positively enhanced; and how as creative leaders, they can be valuable contributors to development in their own schools and communities.
UNICEF works with strategic partners such as national and community based youth organization in South Africa that already have an extensive network in reaching young people in especially the three provinces of focus, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and Eastern Cape.
The program aims to ensure that girls, OVCs and adolescents are increasingly and progressively protected, safe at home, at school and in communities. It also promotes for child friendly environments and safe spaces to be created for effective teaching and learning and it aims to ensure that young people have lifeskills to help them prevent HIV infection and gender based violence. Another provision is for equal access to services and meaningful participation in their schools, homes
Millet, age 16, who hails from Ga-Thoka Village in Limpopo Province, runs the GEM club in her district. She is one of a new breed of young people who are reinventing transformation by taking charge of her own development and bringing as many other youngsters as possible along with her for the ride.
In Ga-Thoka, basic needs such as water, sanitation and health facilities, like clinics are inaccessible to many families. There are no street lights and electricity, and the community, named after the local Chief, is resettled on land claimed through government’s land redistribution programme in an attempt to redress the forced removals and land dispossession their parents experienced under apartheid.
It’s also a community of traditional ways. Many parents assign heavy domestic responsibilities to their daughters and early marriage and teenage pregnancy is commonplace.
There is an air of expectancy with just a hint of excitement as Millet walks into the classroom her school, Mothapo High. A huddle of girls attending this forum of the Girls Education Movement is busy preparing to discuss their GEM experiences; plans for a cleaner, safer, more child friendly environment, and their brand new strategy to bring boys into the club.
Out of a group of 16 children ranging in age from 12 to 17 years, eight of the participants are boys between 7 and 19 years old.
Millet, her hair intricately braided, looking hip and cool, is one of a growing number of enthusiastic and dynamic young leaders encouraging both girls and boys in Ga Thoka village and Limpopo province to talk and listen to each other.
In the workshops she leads, the young people also learn to break down stereotypes, communicate life skills information and plan and implement community development activities like cleaning up the environment and mapping unsafe areas for children in the neighbourhood.
“We are here to learn from everyone, old and young and very soon you will be here facilitating, instead of me,” she tells the young club members.
Throughout the workshop’s five hours of animated small group discussions, the children discuss a full menu of serious topics that impact their lives. The safety and security challenges girls and boys face is high on the list and elicits a charged response.
But other topics such as what boys and girls think about each other; power relations and rape; and violence against girls and the best way to influence adults to take on young peoples concerns enjoy the similar levels of high pitched debate and animated response.
“We don’t want you to get raped so we must learn how to prevent rape. Remember that your rights are protected by the law,” Millet tells the group. “Make sure you aware of your rights.”
To encourage more children and young people to participate in the GEM activities, Millet and her group use creative ways to attract membership. “We use drama, music and sporting events. We also organised for a group of young girls to get training on radio so we can put our issues across”.
The girls created exciting programmes on gender violence and the prevention of HIV and AIDS for their local community radio stations.” This year, with support from UNICEF, they are branching out to TV production, joining a group of girls from al nine provinces who will produce their own reality TV series with training for the SABC, the national broadcaster.
Observing the children, community elder Albina Kekana said wryly: “Once where there was silence, there is now a chorus of clamouring voices all speaking out on taboo subjects such as sexual violence and HIV and AIDS. “More children need to benefit; we must make this movement bigger.”
Says Millet proudly, “I have developed a strong will of community development, especially for the youths their present challenges and their future lives and careers. “Youths need mobilization to keep them alive and shape their future,” she says smiling. “I feel good”.