UGANDA: Once upon an epidemic

Photo: Andrew Green
Uganda's Baroque Publishers have sold 50,000 kits comprised of the 12-book sets
KAMPALA, 17 November 2011 (PlusNews) - Like many classic stories, Vumi's starts with a chance encounter that takes him far from home where the Ugandan primary school student is tempted by alcohol, cigarettes and sex. What happens next is just one story told as part of a locally produced series of 12 children's books on HIV.

Sold as a kit and published by Uganda's Baroque Publishers, the Children's Readers on H IV/AIDS Awaren ess are designed as supplementary material to augment HIV awareness courses on the national curriculum. Each story centres on a theme, such as myths about HIV or its socioeconomic impacts, while also including basic information, such as how the virus is spread.

Since its 2008 release, Baroque has sold 50,000 kits to 9,000 school districts and the books have proven popular. The local New Vision newspaper publishes a weekend children's supplement that includes a write-in section where children identify their favourite books. Baroque's readers have been a consistent feature.

According to the authors, the books fill a gap in educational, yet entertaining, HIV awareness material for children.

"If someone is reading any of these titles, they do not immediately think they are reading something about AIDS," said Benjamin Mpaka, one of the series authors. "This is a creative story... as opposed to this knowledge they're acquiring in a science or basic health lesson... We feel that is how the message can best be received."

The stories' heroes tend to fall into two groups: precocious youths who teach their friends about HIV prevention or hard-working children who overcome the impact of HIV on their families. Though everything usually works out in the end, the stories are remarkably frank: Kenu fights off a rapist, Makina loses her father and is shunned by classmates because she is HIV-positive, and Adelu has to care for her two brothers when their mother falls sick.

The goal was to create realistic stories that informed a young audience, while not preaching to them, despite strong religious components, Mpaka told IRIN/PlusNews.

Baroque won the bid to produce the books from Uganda's Ministry of Education and Sports in 2006 and USAID funded the first round of distribution. The authors built the stories around the national curriculum, so they hew closely to Uganda's school-based HIV prevention campaign, the President's Initiative on HIV/AIDS Strategy on Communication to Youth (PIASCY). Like the controversial PIASCY, the books encourage abstinence, with no discussion of condom use.

More on HIV & children in Uganda
 HIV-positive teens chose religion over ARVs
 Tough times for students living with HIV
 Love and sexuality among teens born with HIV
 Love, positively
After Kenu is almost raped in "The Trap", she starts the "Be Alert Club" in which members pledge to, for instance, abstain until marriage. "No More Tears" instructs students to pray for people living with HIV.

Baroque editor Cathy Mugabi said the publishing house had not received any complaints regarding the content. Instead, she said the biggest challenge was trying to overcome the fact that "people don't like reading".

The kits' high price has also proved a challenge. At about US$18.50, they are too expensive for many families. Those who could afford them "would rather buy a toy or a cake than buy a book", Mpaka added.

The publishers are now looking for funding to animate the series, with an idea of showing the films to communities on portable projectors as part of a national tour.


Theme (s): HIV/AIDS (PlusNews),

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

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