It takes a lot more than the mere application of medical science to do something about AIDS. The epidemic has worked its way into the personal and social fabric of communities across the length and breadth of sub-Saharan Africa and any move to eradicate it needs to take this reality into account. In fact, it will take many arrows to kill this elephant.
The overreaching impacts of AIDS became much clearer to 41 teachers and animators from Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), who attended two workshops of the AJAN AHAPPY program in April. The workshops are part of a drive to ‘train the trainers’ in the use of AHAPPY, an educational package of HIV prevention for youth that is based on integral development. Workshop participants come from Jesuit schools and other projects that cater to young people and they have welcomed AHAPPY for its engaging and common-sense approach.
The workshop at the Emmaüs spiritual centre at Kiriri, Bujumbura, welcomed participants from the Service Yezu Mwiza (SYM), the Lycée du Saint Esprit and the primary school of St Aloysius Gonzaga. The participants of the workshop held in Kinshasa, at the Manresa spiritual centre, came from three Jesuit high schools: Boboto and Bonsomi in Kinshasa and Kubama in Kisantu. The AJAN director, Paterne Mombe SJ, gave the workshops with Pauline Wanjau from AJAN House and Euloge Viho from the Centre Esperance Loyola (CEL – Loyola Hope Centre) in Togo.
The five modules of the AHAPPY package urge young people to look at the relationships they have with themselves, with those around them, with the rest of creation and with God.
“I knew many things about AIDS but never before was this disease presented to me in the way you presented it during these sessions,” Charles, from Kisantu, told Fr Paterne. “AIDS encompasses many realities of our life and our personality, and it is really important to talk about it from a human and spiritual point of view, as you did, and not only from a scientific or mechanical angle.”
Didier, who attended the workshop in Bujumbura, said: “Before I had other ideas about how to fight AIDS. I left the workshop a new man, with another vision for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.”
Joseph, also from Bujumbura, said: “All the modules enriched my knowledge, my experience and the way I relate to others. I especially liked the module called ‘The world in which I live’, it’s just great.”
Joseph summed up the aims of AHAPPY as he saw them: offering correct information about challenges linked to human development, sexuality and HIV; transmitting positive values and giving young people the capacity and aptitudes to think critically; helping young people to resist negative peer pressure and to promote a healthier and happier environment for themselves and for others, not least by developing their talents.
The manuals that go with the AHAPPY course answered many questions that participants brought to the course, mostly about correct scientific information about HIV/AIDS, about the stand of the Church vis-à-vis the epidemic, and about integrating a spiritual dimension in communication strategies targeting young people. The workshop animators explained and demonstrated techniques of participative pedagogy to help educators broach themes linked to sexuality, love and one’s life project.
Short films screened during the workshop were very well received. “The pedagogic organisation and methodology used touched me a lot, especially the films,” said Joseph.
Charles agreed: “Since my return to Kisantu, I sat down to absorb the films we saw. I now have material for my weekly broadcasts on ‘Family and Society’ on local radio and television.”
From Bujumbura, Soline said: “I was especially touched by the films because they are about the realities that young people face. They are real teaching tools.”
The films are unique AJAN productions; the fruit of an initiative to craft messages that encourage young people not only to keep away from life-threatening infections but also to help them to take life-giving and responsible decisions. Young people from Jesuit educational institutions chose the topics and wrote the scripts of the films – theirs were the winning entries of a competition organised by AJAN in 2010 called Youth Movies for Life & for Love.
The workshop participants are only too aware of the challenges that lie ahead. They listed as concerns the risk factors that expose young people to HIV, like alcohol, drugs, the fact that sexual education remains taboo in many families, negative peer pressure… what they must do now, as teachers and animators of youth projects, is “to establish a climate that allows for the clear transmission of messages to young people”, in the words of Didier from Burundi. A plan of activities, follow-up and evaluation was drawn up so that the teachers can make their earnest desire to effectively reach young people a reality.
The participants themselves came up with innovative ways about how to go about this. In Bujumbura, one of the teachers shared how young people went for a group reflection about “St Valentine with Jesus” on Valentine’s Day. When a priest suggested this novel idea to them, the youth were quick to leave the pubs and discos take it up – which goes to show that if educators present opportunities for meaningful activities, young people do respond and rise above the many challenges they face to live life to the full.