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Myanmar, Republic of the Union of

Life-skills training helps young people to prevent HIV in Myanmar

© UNICEF Myanmar/2008/Myo Thame
A life skills-based peer training session takes place in Wan Ku Thit village, Kyaing Tong Township, Myanmar.

By Sandar Linn

KYAING TONG, Myanmar, 29 December 2008 – In the village of Wan Ku Thit, a remote Ah Khar ethnic group enclave in Kyaing Tong Township, eastern Shan State, very few people are aware of the risk of HIV and how to prevent AIDS.

El May Ja, 19, is one of many in her village who, until recently, did not have a lot of prior knowledge about HIV.

“My family, my friends, my neighbours and even the head of our village don't know these things,” she said. “Although we have heard about HIV/AIDS, because there are some people in other villages who went to work in border areas and came back as they got infected with HIV, we have not received any in-depth information about it.”

Learning life skills

At a recent UNICEF-supported life-skills training programme, about 30 young people aged 15 to 24 learned about HIV and AIDS.

“Today is the second day of our training,” explained El May Ja. “Now we know exactly how the virus is transmitted, how we can protect ourselves.... We are going to learn more about life skills in the next three days, and I’m so excited about that.”

Life skills are abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life. Among the lessons that were taught so far, El May Ja cited the topic ‘Value Myself’ as her favourite.

“The tradition and culture is already in place for girls to value themselves, and one of the major facts is to abstain from having sexual relations until one gets married. But the knowledge from this training adds more value to this,” she said.

Peer groups teach prevention

For effective HIV prevention, skills such as critical thinking, decision-making, problem-solving and communication are essential to help young people adopt safer behaviours. Ten core skills, including empathy, are embedded in the health-related topics so that after training, the participants are able to show more supportive attitudes toward people living with HIV.

Following the life-skills training, participants are encouraged to share their newly gained knowledge with their peer groups so that it benefits the wider community.

“We discuss these things outside training,” El May Ja said, standing with a group of her friends. “We also talk about HIV and life-skills lessons that we have learnt so far with our friends from other villages, where they don't get this information. We enjoy learning life skills because it is important in our daily lives to know what is harmful to us.”




November 2008: UNICEF correspondent Amy Bennett reports on peer education programmes in ethnic villages in Myanmar.
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