Youth educate peers on HIV/AIDS prevention
Once unknown among Tajikistan's predominantly Muslim population, HIV/AIDS is spreading with increasing speed across this mountainous country. Tajik society, with its strong traditional values, is only slowly awakening to the dangers of the disease. UNICEF has been working with local youth organizations in Dushanbe, the capital, to train peer educators in HIV prevention. Each group of trained educators in turn trains other groups. The programme has been growing over the past four years.
"I've made it the purpose of my life to help my peers so they never have to deal with this problem and so the whole world can be free of this handicap," says 18-year-old Olia, one of the peer educators.
Olia stresses that tolerance is important for a healthy society. HIV-positive people often face discrimination.
"I was recently in Turkey, and I met a girl who had the virus," explains Olia. "She is also a peer educator, and she wanted to help others while she had the time. . . . These people are like us except that they have the virus inside them. We should treat them equally."
Matluba, 17, is also a peer educator, and has a special message.
"I would ask HIV-positive people to tell others who don't know about the virus," she says. "I think people would understand it better if they see the feelings in the eyes of the infected person."
Young people like Olia and Matluba are at the forefront of the effort to raise awareness in Tajikistan about HIV/AIDS and to stop the rising tide of infection before it gets out of control.
Anora Mahmudova, at www.unicef.org/infobycountry/Tajikistan_29937.html.