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Students in India learn life skills for preventing HIV/AIDS

© UNICEF video
The SALSEP programme teaches students in India that HIV/AIDS is not simply a medical problem, but a behavioural issue.

By Rob McBride

MUMBAI, India, 26 August 2005 – In the classroom at Bombay Scottish School in Mumbai, the children sing with a passion and maturity, far beyond their teenage years. For they know they are enrolled on a course that might one day save their lives.

This is the latest group of students to go through SALSEP - the School Adolescence Life Skills Education Programme – a course that stresses the importance of life skills in tackling a variety of adolescent issues from sex to drug abuse. All of the material is taught with an emphasis on HIV/AIDS prevention.

“Each one of us has a choice,” says Avni Vasavada, Resource Co-ordinator at the school, summing up one of the main messages. “My life gets affected by the choices that I make.”

SALSEP teaches the students that HIV/AIDS is not simply a medical problem, but a behavioural issue. The decisions people make are crucial to their well-being.

Vast numbers

India – a country where small percentages of the population translate into vast numbers – stands on the verge of an AIDS crisis. Estimates of the number of people living with HIV/AIDS in India range from 2.2 million up to 7.6 million. The numbers are rising steadily. Moreover, around half of all new infections occur among young people in their teens and twenties.

Reaching India’s school population is therefore seen as vital by those promoting SALSEP. Advocates also stress that it is no longer enough to be aware of the disease – one must also take action to avoid it. UNICEF has supported many youth initiatives undertaken in the state of Maharashtra; the organization is also giving its full support to SALSEP.

“We must try now to reach every adolescent in the state, or in the country for that matter. Schools give you a unique opportunity,” said UNICEF Assistant Project Officer Dr. Sanjana Bhardwaj.

It is hoped that up to 6 million schoolchildren in India will take the course in the coming year, but campaigners see a day when all schools become involved. “If all schools take it up, the kids will be equipped with the skills,” said Avni Vasavada. “I think everywhere kids are the same and they have the same exposure, by and large.”

Back in their classroom at the Bombay Scottish School, students in the course have finished their latest session with a role playing exercise, which helps them understand the alienation faced by those who are living with HIV/AIDS in India today. The students’ awareness will be a valuable contribution to a society slowly coming to terms with the enormity of its HIV/AIDS problem.

“This has taught me that the people who are affected by AIDS are to be given courage,” said one student, Ketki Chakradev. “The courage to live, the courage to face other people.”




26 August 2005:
UNICEF correspondent Rob McBride reports on how children in India are learning to tackle HIV/AIDS

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