School students become pioneers of HIV/AIDS prevention
By Bjorn Lyngstad, UNICEF Turkmenistan
“Some of my neighbours had not even heard about HIV or AIDS,” said 15-year-old Aybegench Tugunova. “Life Skills” taught to students at the UNICEF-supported school in Mary region in Turkmenistan not only benefits the pupils themselves, but the whole community.
ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan, 23 May 2007 – Knowledge about the risk of HIV and how to prevent AIDS is very low in Turkmenistan. Less than one in eight women of fertile age is able to identify the four ways the virus can be transmitted. However, thanks to “Life Skills” training, the pupils at School Number 45 in Yoloten etrap in eastern Turkmenistan know more about HIV and AIDS than most adults in the country. They are now aware that HIV can be transmitted by sexual intercourse; sharing contaminated needles through drug injection and in health care settings; blood transfusion; and between mother and infant, during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.
Low HIV/AIDS awareness
“Many of us used to think that HIV could be passed on even by somebody just breathing on you. Now we know exactly how the virus is transmitted and how we can protect ourselves. Most of our parents, relatives and neighbours don’t know these things,” said Aybegench Tugunova, age 15.
“Although many people have heard about HIV/AIDS, they have not received any in-depth information about it.”
“Our pupils are pioneers,” says teacher Maysa Mukammetkuliyewa. “Through the Life Skills training, pupils are being encouraged to take their newly acquired knowledge back to where they live so that it benefits all generations and the wider community.” It appears that the pupils are more than happy to this and are not afraid to talk about HIV/AIDS openly.
“We discuss these things outside school. We also talk about AIDS with our peers from other schools where they don’t get this information. We enjoy learning Life Skills because it is different from other subjects – it is important in our daily lives to know what is harmful to us. It helps us develop our own views,” said Aybegench.
Life Skills training
Since 2005, when School Number 45 started receiving support through a UNICEF project, there has been an emphasis on teaching Life Skills. It is taught in both regular classes and at a youth club. Topics include drugs, infectious diseases and how to behave in public settings in general. At the youth club, sport, art and health activities are all on the agenda.
Teachers and pupils get closer
According Ms. Mukammetkuliyewa the teachers also enjoy Life Skills. “Pupils are very active participants and are eager to learn. Because of new methodologies and the emphasis on interactive learning teachers and students get much closer to one another than they normally do, and the pupils ask questions, discuss amongst themselves and express their views and opinions.”
Life Skills classes include activities such as games, puzzles and role-plays. Ogulnur and Aybegench enthusiastically showed us the “HIV/AIDS Bridge” they developed. The sketch neatly illustrates how youngsters have to avoid the pitfalls of drugs, HIV/AIDS and other diseases by crossing a narrow bridge leading to “Good health”. On this journey they are assisted only by “Awareness.”
UNICEF-supported resource centre
UNICEF support has also enabled the school to build a resource centre with a computer, maps, atlases and games.
“We really like using the computer and it gives us an opportunity to learn some English,” said Aybegench. “Also since UNICEF began supporting our school we have started to explore what UNICEF and the United Nations do,” they said.
“UNICEF gave us a world map, and we can’t stop looking at it, said one of the girls.
When asked if it makes you curious to travel to other countries, a chorus of “Yes!” from the students is followed by a list of places they would like to see: “Paris, Spain, London…”