MOZAMBIQUE: Securing an AIDS-free future

Photo: IRIN
Peer educator Carla Andiseni and "graduate" Manuel Jose
zambezia, 26 October 2004 (PlusNews) - A crowd of young Mozambicans gathered under the shade of a tree last week to discuss what they knew about HIV/AIDS, as part of a peer education programme underway in central Zambezia province.

Some answered confidently but others were reticent, with the girls, especially, keeping their heads down when asked how HIV was transmitted.

The Meu Futuro e minha Escolha, "My Future is my Choice" initiative, supported by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), aims to influence 10 to 15 year-olds with safer sex messages. They are mostly too young to be sexually active, and therefore represent a "window of opportunity" in stemming the spread of the epidemic if they can be protected from HIV infection.

Mozambique recently announced an upsurge in its HIV prevalence rate from 13.6 percent last year to 14.9 percent this year. Zambezia is one of the worst affected provinces and also has some of the most dismal social and economic indicators in the country.

In 2001 the National Institute of Statistics found that three-quarters of the population lived an hour's walk from the nearest health unit; the majority of families had no access to piped water, latrines or electricity; and very few people completed primary school - many adolescents, especially girls, dropped out because of early marriages and pregnancies.

One of the main activities in My Future is my Choice is training peer educators to provide young people with life skills to help them make informed choices about their sexual behaviour. The programme forms part of 'Telling the Story', a youth campaign funded by the United Nations Foundation, which sponsors youth projects in seven AIDS-affected countries in southern Africa.

When PlusNews visited, the youth gathered under the tree consisted of both peer educators and their young students. Many of those present were a bit subdued, but 19-year-old Carla Andiseni, a peer educator, needed no encouragement to speak. She explained clearly what HIV/AIDS was in a simple way so that the younger children could understand. "You must ask when you don't understand," she told the young girl sitting next to her.

In a separate interview with PlusNews, Andiseni said the programme had made a personal difference to her. Two years ago, when she was in the middle of her own training to become a peer educator, she discovered her mother was dying of AIDS.

"As my mother could not read and write, the nurse gave me her HIV test results at the hospital. I knew because of the training exactly what it meant to be HIV positive," she said. Her father had already died in 1995 after being sick for a long time, probably also from AIDS.

Andiseni is one of 25 peer educators in the Namacurra district of Zambezia. Together they have taught 2,736 boys and 1,859 girls aged between 10 and 15, both in and out of schools.

Fifteen-year-old José Manuel, one of the graduates of the programme, said he had learnt a lot from the training. "I had heard about HIV, but I didn't understand how you get it. Also, I didn't know that alcohol is bad for you," he said. "These are the two important things I learnt in the sessions."

The youth who complete the 10-day programme can continue to meet in social clubs supported by the initiative. Here they can learn skills like basket weaving, play sports and practice dramas about HIV/AIDS, which they perform in various communities. "I love the drama best," said Andiseni.

Although the work is voluntary, the peer educators are given a few incentives, including a T-shirt and cap, and 500,000 Meticais (about US $20) per group of children they train.

"The money keeps my four younger brothers and sisters in school," said Andiseni, who has been the head of her household since her parents died.

Theme (s): Children,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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