HIV Education Outreach – ICCES Vocational Training Centres

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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