“AHAPPY is trying to shape us into people who love God, our neighbours and ourselves.” Eric is enthusiastic as he talks about the AJAN HIV and AIDS Prevention Program for Youth. His thin hands gesticulate expressively as he makes his main point about AHAPPY: “The content shapes a complete person, a person who can make a change in society, who can embrace diversity in others, who will help others… so a complete person.”
Eric doesn’t have it easy. Like all the students of St Aloysius High School in Langata, Nairobi, he is bright but disadvantaged. One of the entry criteria of St Al’s is that you are an orphan with one or both parents lost to AIDS and that you come from Kibera, known as one of the largest, if not the largest, slum in Africa.
In fact, another reason Eric likes AHAPPY is because “I learned new ways of dealing with personal stress and pressures from our background that affect the way I learn in class.”
St Aloysius is one of the many schools in Africa that appreciate AHAPPY for the way it imparts knowledge, life skills and values that enable young people to make healthy life choices. The students of St Al’s discuss the AHAPPY modules in small groups called ‘families’. Eric belongs to the family in the final year, whom I meet for a chat to see why they like AHAPPY.
One of the selling points of the program is that it is written in a language the students can easily relate to. For Colin, another student, “the AJAN program is very helpful because it is not theories but daily experiences we live and they are written in a way we can understand.”
Essentially AHAPPY transmits messages the teenagers so want to hear – messages about their potential to direct the course of their own life and to become somebody who can make a positive difference in the world around them. They keep coming back to the impact of the program on the way they look at themselves: self-awareness, self-confidence, self-esteem…
“One of the topics I benefited from is how well do I know myself? Why do I go to school? What am I for?” says Prudence.
Imelda chimes in: “The AHAPPY generation is about self-esteem, the realisation of goodness in me and do I appreciate and like myself and my behaviour. We also see how our self-esteem can be affected by the environment, by parents, teachers, friends and leaders and what they say about you. If people say negative things about you, avoid them, stay with people who love, appreciate and encourage you.”
All are keenly aware that they need a strong armour of self-esteem to resist the onslaught of peer pressure. “We find the confidence to speak out, to make decisions right. As teenagers you face peer pressure and in AHAPPY you learn how to say the words straight,” says Caroline.
Asked which value she would choose from those expounded by the AHAPPY program, Angela chooses fortitude: “It has given me the courage to stand by my words. If I say ‘no’, I mean it.”
Another thing about which the group is in passionate agreement is that it is so good to know that God loves you. This, for Imelda, is “what boosts you most”.
Eric agrees: “I know that whoever you are, whatever background you may come from, whatever obstacles you may have, whatever weaknesses, God still loves you.”
Their firm faith is ultimately what bolsters the teenagers’ self-esteem. “It is all about seeing ourselves the way God sees us,” says Colins. “We should not see ourselves the way people see us. When people say we are failures and cannot make it, this does not mean we are so. God sees us as people who can make it and we are equal in his sight. No matter if people abandon you, your family, friends, you know God still loves you and you are a child of God.”