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CAR: University centre marks start of academic year despite unrest

Dominique Lare Kassoa SJ, director of the University Catholic Centre, Bangui

A Jesuit prevention-education centre at the university of Bangui has organised a ceremony for its peer educators to mark the start of the academic year despite the insecurity that plagues the Central African Republic (CAR).

Since northern rebels seized power in the capital – which they later lost – in early 2013, CAR remains to all appearances a politically unstable and economically weak country, with the level of insecurity upcountry presenting an especial cause for concern. Indeed, the history of the country has been interspersed with political jolts, leading to institutional instability that weighs heavily against development.

In the capital Bangui activities unfold according to the rhythm imposed by armed groups. When there is a crisis, everything is paralysed but when things are calmer, life resumes its course. As Bangui is currently calm, daily activities that had declined have quietly started again.

It was in this climate that the Centre d’Information, d’Education et d’Ecoute (CIEE – Information, Education and Listening Centre) of the University Catholic Centre organized events on 7 and 8 January. A cultural activity was held on 7 January and the big event to launch the academic year followed the next day.

This annual ceremony is very significant for the CIEE because it is the time when the peer educators of its info-health clubs receive their kits and are thus officially sent on their mission. This year, the theme of the event was AIDS will not come to me, and even if it does, I will not transmit it.

The info-health clubs are the backbone of the CIEE. Present in the university faculties and on the campuses of private higher education institutions in Bangui, the clubs are made up of students who relay the prevention messages of the CIEE among their peers.

The ceremony is important because it is an opportunity to improve the visibility of the CIEE among students, the university administration and other social actors involved in the struggle against AIDS at university level. The Rector of the University of Bangui presided over the event and our local partners and the UNAIDS representative were present.

In his address, the university rector assured our partners that they may have confidence in the activities of the CIEE given the quality of services offered to students. He encouraged the centre to press ahead with its saving mission, that is to give students the opportunity to get to know their HIV status and to adopt healthy behaviours to reduce the risk of getting or spreading HIV. The rector also reiterated his availability to accompany the CIEE in its activities.

Two seminars were held around the themes: The body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and Living positively with HIV/AIDS.

We feel that the event was a success, not least because the insecurity in the capital did not impede the realisation of our activities. Seeing so many people turn up for the launch of our year’s activities was a source of joy for us because we realised that the work of the CIEE is not without impact.

Each one, by his presence, affirmed his commitment. And once more the CIEE renewed its willingness to help students to be aware about HIV/AIDS and, what’s more, to work for an AIDS-free university and healthy environment.

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