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At a glance: Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea: Using the performing arts to deliver a lifesaving message to children

© UNICEF EAPRO/2005/Bloemen
Youth outreach volunteers perform a drama demonstrating how young people can protect themselves against HIV/AIDS at Kainantu Primary School in Papua New Guinea.

By Shantha Bloemen

KAINANTU, Papua New Guinea, 19 December 2005 - For many of the children at Kainantu Primary School in Papua New Guinea’s isolated Eastern Highlands, the arrival of a team of youth outreach volunteers is a welcome distraction from school work.

In the drama, they see a young schoolgirl lured by an older man to sleep with him in exchange for gifts. The young girl in the drama is thrown out of school, pregnant and HIV-positive. The show ends with a condom demonstration, For many of the students, aged between eight and 18, the drama provides them with valuable knowledge about preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS.

In the last decade, the myth that AIDS is an “urban disease” in Papua New Guinea, has been shattered as more and more rural towns are starting to feel the impact of the country’s worsening HIV/AIDS epidemic. Today, HIV is spreading most rapidly in rural areas like Kainantu, where 87 per cent of the country’s 5.6 million people still have no knowledge about the importance of protecting themselves and how to do it.

The local Government hospital, the only place in the district to get tested for HIV, reports that nearly a third of the results come back positive. Knowledge about sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS remains very poor. Although the official prevalence rate is 1.7 per cent, the rate may actually be as high as 2.5 per cent.

The trained youth outreach volunteers have been recruited from the local community as part of an HIV/AIDS awareness project run by Save the Children and UNICEF.

© UNICEF EAPRO/2005/Bloemen
Hundreds of students from Kainantu Primary School engaged in a drama performed by youth outreach volunteers warning about the dangers of HIV and AIDS.

“We feel that young people sharing their experiences with each other is a good way of reaching out to them and their peers,” says Samson Pisin, Save the Children Youth Outreach Officer. “Instead of just giving information, we try to teach them and help them to understand the message through the drama, the role play and demonstration.”

Mrs Anigel, Headmistress at Kainantu Primary School, welcomes the youth outreach volunteers.

“This afternoon really stressed a lot of how they should look after themselves and how they should prevent themselves and I really would say it was very worthwhile.” says Anigel. who acknowledges that cases of STDs have been reported amongst students.

Talking about sex is still a taboo in many families, schools and communities. But the lack of open discussion about relationships and sexuality combined by high levels of sexual violence against girls and women means that HIV is spreading quickly and women and girls are most at risk. Girls between the ages of 15-19 have the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the country, four times that of boys the same age.

With half the population of Papua New Guinea under 18, the battle against AIDS will only succeed if linked to giving young people, especially girls, more opportunities and giving them the power to take more control of their future.

Yet in a country with over 700 language and complex tribal groups, limited infrastructure and many communities still isolated by poor roads and limited telecommunication, the challenges to reach people are enormous. With limited access to the mass media, often the only way is through personal contact.






19 December 2005:
Brian Hall reports on how one volunteer group in Papua New Guinea is reaching out to children through the performing arts.

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