When Mr. Robert Toolit, attended AJAN HIV and AIDS Prevention Programme for the Youth (AHAPPY) training of trainers in Nairobi in 2013, he had no idea how an important instrument he could turn out to be in supporting HIV and AIDS efforts amongst the youth in Uganda. His story can be an encouragement to all of us; that no matter how small an idea may be, and however little the resources you may have, it is indeed possible to give your contribution to the fight against HIV and AIDS.
After the training in 2013, Mr. Toolit, a teacher of Mathematics and Science at OCER Campion Jesuit College in Uganda, left for Kampala enthusiastic to start a cause of empowering his students on HIV and AIDS. With permission from the school’s administration, he made out that the best starting point was to train his fellow teachers; who would in turn train their respective classes in the institution. Even though this appeared easy in his mind, unfortunately, it was not! The teachers were busy and the school administration had priorities in other projects. That presented his firstsetback but he would not allow himself to be discouraged, having persuasion t that his students would greatly benefit from the knowledge he had gained in Nairobi.
It was not until 2014 that Mr. Toolit recruited his first students into the program, eight of them whom he christened ‘AHAPPY Influencers’. These were mainly bright and responsible students who served as school prefects. He created time after teaching hours when these students were free to join his training.
Using the AHAPPY Manual, the eight Influencers were introduced to the five AHAPPY Modules ‘Awakening Myself, This World I Live In, Facing a World with HIV and AIDS, Knowing Myself to Grow Myself and the Foundation on Which I Build My Life’. In a matter of weeks, his pioneering recruits had demonstrated great interest in the training. “My students would ask me questions and I would tell they are struggling with social challenges not necessarily academic ones” said Mr. Toolit. He used these sessions to mentor his students and build their capacity on leadership and their self-confidence. After completion of the modules, being a teacher, he sought to test their improved understanding by allocating them the same topics for presentation amongst themselves. He was impressed.
It is at this level that Mr. Toolit created AHAPPY Club at OCER Campion Jesuit College. His eight students became the trailblazers of AHAPPY program in the school. Fellow students joined the club and they showed great interest in it. “Here, they could debate on topics they could not openly talk or discuss in the presence of adults. I was so happy that I could clarify arising issues and enlighten them” he observes.
Mr. Toolit continued to enlist more student Influencers and by the end of 2014, he had over eighty (80) of them. The school had witnessed a remarkable change as a result of AHAPPY Club in the school. His understudies had developed greater self-belief, had become more confident, were better informed about HIV/AIDS and very responsible. They had grown into true leaders. “My influencers such as Nancy Angwech Odongo, Odong Bosco and Mazira Goretti among others topped in Uganda National Examinations”, delighted Mr. Toolit. He then began to pair those he identified to be weak with bright ones and relationships improved drastically so that in 2016, the school administration recognized AHAPPY Club for its remarkable work!
Earlier in 2015, AHAPPY Influencers brainstormed on how they could do more apart from just having the club in the school. Ideas such as; holding HIV/AIDS dialogues on the streets, in homes and orphanages as well as having AHAPPY as a radio program emerged. It meant additional responsibilities on Mr. Toolit whoknocked one door to another. During the same year, support from the local government in Gulu, saw the AHAPPY Influencers go on air. Indeed, from 2015, AHAPPY runs as a radio program on a radio channel called Mega FM. The Program is a hit in the community and according to Mr. Toolit, “Influencers go on air to discuss topical issues on HIV/AIDSand we are able to reach a wider audience” said Mr. Toolit.
Mr. Toolit and his trainers now receive many invitations to mentor students on HIV and AIDS around Gulu in Uganda. For instance in OMEL Primary School, they have mentored over 80 students. They also mentor female students who have been awarded scholarships by African Women Rising. In total, Mr. Toolit and his ‘influencers’ have mentored over five schools with more than 200 students. Many times he has dug into his own pockets to support his work. “It is my responsibility to lay good ground for the future generation. I am pleased to know that in future, I can confidently refer my son or daughter to someone for whom I was part of creating a beautiful story in their life and that my children are bound to live in healthy society equipped with the right information on HIV/AIDS” said Mr. Toolit. He is grateful to the local government in Gulu, Patricia Akello of Youth Alive Uganda, his friends in Gulu Diocese, St. Jude Gulu, Sr. Viola Azaru of Sacred Heart of Jesus, Moyo Congregation, in Moyo District, Radio Mega FM, Aloyo Mary and his fellow teachers and administration at OCER Campion Jesuit College, and by extension all the stakeholders who have made contribution to support HIV/AIDS efforts in Uganda.
Mr. Toolit strongly believes that AHAPPY Clubs could still stand as strong as have National Students Associations and Young Christian Students (YCS) which often run without adult patrons yet have survived the test of time in schools.