Archive for May, 2007

HIV Education Outreach – ICCES Vocational Training Centres

May 30, 2007

Written by: Gordon Pearce, Kumasi District Co-Ordinator / Volunteer

A further step towards the goal of expanding Light for Children’s educational outreach work across the whole Ashanti region was taken on Tuesday 29th May, when LIFOC staff and volunteers paid a visit to the Integrated Community Centre for Employable Skills at Offinso, 20km north of Kumasi. ICCES centres exist to provide vocational training in areas such as carpentry, masonry, catering and fashion to school-leavers aged between fifteen and twenty-four; statistically this group has a higher than average risk of contracting HIV, which makes the work that our organisation undertakes with them all the more important. Light for Children plans to visit twelve ICCES centres in total, of which Offinso was the first.

Because Community Centre students are older than the JSS pupils who have previously constituted the main focus of Light for Children’s educational work, a slightly different perspective was adopted for the HIV/AIDS presentation. The Journey of Hope metaphor was still employed as the central theme but whereas with younger children abstinence was promoted as the main method of protection against HIV transmission, here equal weighting was also given to faithfulness and condom use in recognition of the fact that many if not most of the students who took part are already sexually active. The importance of seeking Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) services to find out one’s HIV status before engaging in unprotected sex within a faithful relationship was particularly emphasised; students were told about the low cost (5000 Cedis – roughly US$0.50) of such services and the benefits which knowing for sure if you have HIV can bring, whether in terms of steering clear of infection or in seeking early treatment.

In addition to the Journey of Hope tool, students were also asked to participate in another activity which involved crossing a pair of metaphorical bridges. First, a number of people were asked to try and walk along a thin pole representing faithfulness and abstinence as methods of protection against HIV. Each student was assigned a different character role to show that this is a challenge faced by people in every area of society, from school children to vicars to truck drivers. Those who were unable to pass along the pole and fell into the ‘water’ (representing unprotected sex and the risk of acquiring STIs) were then asked to repeat the challenge with a second bridge – condom use – for support. With condoms as back-up in case the other two methods failed, all were able to pass over the water successfully. The exercise served the dual purpose of illustrating the role that using protection plays in reducing the spread of HIV through sexual intercourse, and also of highlighting the fact that any type of person can put themselves at risk of contracting HIV irrespective of age, wealth or social status. Making the latter point shows not only that everyone should be careful about HIV but also that it is wrong to stigmatise or discriminate against people because they have been unlucky enough to get infected.

Demonstrations showing correct usage of both male and female condoms were carried out, with accompanying discussion about the pros and cons of each. Although more expensive and cumbersome the female variety has the advantage that it can be inserted several hours before sex, giving the woman more control with regard to enforcing the use of protection. The importance of using condoms consistently when they are chosen as the main method of protection against HIV transmission was also reiterated, since using condoms only occasionally or even most but not all of the time greatly increases the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection when compared with correct condom use every time.

The director of Offinso ICCES centre, Alex Addei, complemented the Light for Children representatives (Yaw Otchere Baffour, Saskia Tas and Gordon Pearce) on the quality of their presentation and the usefulness of the information it contained. Given this endorsement, along with the consent of Nana Boateng (ICCES co-ordinator for the Ashanti region), it is anticipated that LIFOC will proceed to visit a different one of the area’s twelve Community Centres each week over the course of the next three months.

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HIV Education Outreach Programme for Schools in Kumasi

May 16, 2007

Written by: Gordon Pearce, Kumasi District Co-Ordinator / Volunteer

The recent May 1st celebrations marked the last day of the Easter vacation for schools in the Ashanti region, and the beginning of the new term enabled the continuation of Light for Children’s programme of HIV-related educational outreach activities. Over the past week LIFOC staff have visited three different schools in the Atonsu-Agogo area of Southern Kumasi, engaging in a combination of HIV/AIDS behaviour change presentations and associated follow-up sessions.

On Tuesday May 15th, Junior Secondary aged pupils (11 to 15 years) at Atonsu Metropolitan Authority School A participated in an interactive exercise using the Journey of Hope learning approach, which employs an imaginary fleet of ‘survival boats’ crossing a treacherous stretch of water to reach a distant tropical island as a metaphor for the methods which young people can use to help them avoid HIV and achieve their life goals. The boats represent abstinence, faithfulness and condom use, the three most effective ways to prevent transmission of the AIDS virus through sexual intercourse (the most common mode of transmission), while the risks posed by HIV, STIs and teenage pregnancy to those who fall into the water are illustrated with crocodiles lurking beneath the surface.

The idea is to help children to think about what will make them happy in the long term so that they are less likely to jeopardise their future chances in life by engaging in high-risk behaviour at a young age. It is hoped that the encouragement of pupils to take an active role in choosing the right path for them, rather than just being passive recipients of a lecture, will result in them adopting safer behaviour patterns on a more permanent basis.

As part of the interactive element in Light for Children’s education outreach work, pupils are asked at the end of the session to produce a short piece of work in the form of a poem, story, essay or picture which expresses some of their views on HIV and related sexual health issues. On May 10th and May 15th LIFOC visited Atonsu Presbyterian School and the adjacent Metro Authority School B to present prizes for the best entries and carry out a short follow-up activity.

Each winner received a pack of exercise books and stationary to help them in their studies as a token of appreciation for their outstanding compositions. Excerpts from all the pieces had been collated by LIFOC volunteers into colourful posters which were presented to the schools for display in classrooms and communal areas, allowing the children to see a tangible result from their efforts and providing them with a resource to help remember and reinforce the key messages addressed during the outreach sessions. In addition, the prize-winning work was word-processed and mounted to form part of the wall display so that the authors could enjoy recognition for their achievements. Light for Children staff discussed with students the main ideas which emerged from their contributions and explained the thinking behind expressing these themes in poster form.

LIFOC paid a further visit to Yaa Achiaa Girls’ School on Wednesday May 16th, in a continuation of our organisation’s links with this establishment. Previously pupils in JSS years 2 and 3 had taken part in activities with Light for Children staff, so this time it was the turn of a JSS 1 class to get involved with the Journey of Hope presentation.

The girls proved very receptive to the issues touched on therein, and were keen to contribute their ideas and opinions; as in the Presby and Metro schools the pupils were set an assignment to produce a piece of work expressing their viewpoint, which they will complete over the course of the next few days. Light for Children will continue to return to Yaa Achiaa over the coming weeks to present the Journey of Hope activity to more JSS 1 children and award prizes for the best essays, poems and pictures.