Zimbabwe youth talk boldly about HIV/AIDS
By Richard Nyamanhindi
It is 4.00pm in Zimbabwe and school has finished for the day. But all over the country, groups of teenagers are still sitting in their classrooms. It is not detention. It is not extra Math. What these teenagers are talking about is far more interesting.
“We talk about puberty, sexuality, different lifestyles, emotions and problems we face in everyday life,” says Getrude Mazhindu, who lives in Sanyati in Midlands Province of Zimbabwe. “You find in the club you can discuss most things comfortably, things that you would not discuss with your parents.”
Rebeca is referring to the Young People We Care (YPWC) club, where students get together to discuss issues affecting the youth in their various communities.
HIV and AIDS prevention messages play a key role in all of the YPWC clubs countrywide. And these messages are getting through. “Before I joined the YPWC club, I thought HIV education was something that I did not need to know about. I thought I was too young,” says Getrude. “But through the club I have seen that HIV involves young people as well – we are part and parcel of it. It is not only the older people that can get HIV, but also us.”
Young People We Care staff member for Restless Development, Primrose Manyalo says: “We know from feedback from our community meetings that we are changing a lot of Zimbabwean young people. They say “through YPWC I have changed, I was going out with so many girls but because of the program I am now abstaining from sex.’’
Much of the YPWC’s success in changing young people’s attitudes is attributable to its participatory, ‘edutainment’ approach.
“It is not about telling people how to live their lives,” explains Basilizwi volunteer Pride Samende, who has spent the last two years sharing his expertise in livelihoods with colleagues in Binga. “The content of our discussions comes from our community engagement sessions, listening to what real people say and reporting back, using real case studies and testimonials and stories, featuring role models and allowing people to talk about their realities and find their own solutions.”
The resulting material is lively, honest and informative. It is unsurprising that YPWC has become a popular initiative among young people throughout the country. And with more than 200,000 young people benefitting from YPWC, the initiative is undoubtedly playing a crucial role in slowing the spread of HIV and AIDS in Zimbabwe.
YPWC also gives young people information on how to prevent HIV, how to access care and treatment and provides skills training in preparation for adulthood. Several thousand participants have now gone through the program throughout the country. Around the country, UNICEF is working through various partners such as Restless Development, Midlands AIDS Services Organisation (MASO), Batanai HIV&AIDS Service Organization, Family AIDS Caring Trust and Basilwizi Trust among others.