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Zimbabwe: Touching souls, healing lives

Time Baluwa, Programmes Coordinator, Jesuit AIDS Project, Zimbabwe

“The workshop has made me come to terms with myself. I realised I had issues with the death of my mother and blamed God and my relatives for it. I know now that it’s me who has to change and be well with myself.”

Any workshop that manages to prompt this realization has to be good. We believe the workshop mentioned by the young woman who shared this testimony was indeed special, because it strengthened and healed those who attended. The workshop, held by the Jesuit AIDS Project (JAP) in rural Zimbabwe from 10 to 15 December 2012, focused on youth integral development – the cornerstone of JAP’s efforts to prevent HIV among young people by encouraging them to grow into healthy and confident adults.

Young people in Zimbabwe face many challenges. Some are the usual developmental struggles faced by anyone growing up: difficulty in managing relationships, developing one’s identity, dealing with peer pressure… Other challenges emanate from the country’s socio-political and economic factors that put pressure on young people and demand a response from them. All these challenges pile up and weigh heavily, creating emotional wounds that are sometimes symptomatically noticed as maladaptive behaviours.

Some react by somehow managing to stifle their pain and bury their wounds. With each passing year, emotional debris accumulates in their fragile minds and hearts. This is the generation of young people we are raising as a nation. The consequences of having a young citizen wrapped up in ‘unfinished business’ are considerable, especially in an era of AIDS.

The six-day Integral Youth Development Workshop in Manhenga, rural Bindura, gave 32 young people the opportunity to take some time out of their everyday environment. In a way, it was a retreat, allowing them to take a reflective look into their personal lives.

The workshop consisted of process-based accompaniment embedded in key themes. The theme of the first day was getting to know each other. The facilitators guided the young people towards understanding that they are welcome and appreciated just the way they are, amazing creations of God. All were encouraged to work together, relate to and accompany one another, creating an environment for mutual sharing.

On the second day, participants learned how to appreciate the importance of information and knowledge – the second theme – in their lives. The information shared was scientific, about HIV, AIDS and related infections and diseases.

Dedicated to self-awareness, the third day was an invitation to embark on a journey of discovery. The young people began to realise that what they know and relate to everyday is often an iceberg of who they are. What was significant was the equilibrium between the discovery of what is good and what is bad about each one, and how both sides affect the self.

The fourth day took a practical turn, giving participants a tool kit of life-skills to deal with daily life. The skills identified included assertiveness, communications, negotiation, behaviour change, communication and decision-making.

Social issues in the family took up the fifth day, the epicentre of the healing process. As the facilitators accompanied them to those dark, unfinished, painful and usually buried experiences of their lives, the young participants could open up and share their troubles in a supportive environment.

The last day equipped participants with organizational skills to organize, monitor and evaluate their own lives as well as the running of the Youth Against AIDS (YAA) Clubs they are all encouraged to be part of. YAA Clubs are the backbone of the JAP programme.

All in all, we felt the workshop was a success. It was all the more effective because it was a collaborative work between JAP and AJAN. Pauline Wanjau, the coordinator of AHAPPY (AJAN HIV&AIDS Prevention Programme for Youth) flew from AJAN House in Nairobi to Zimbabwe to support the JAP facilitators during the workshop. Pauline added value to the event by presenting short films, produced by AJAN, which aim to prevent HIV among youth. The participants found the films very educative and inspiring. There is no doubt that they contributed to attaining the integral development so dear to JAP, which aims for the healthy and holistic development of young people.

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