Training youth on HIV/AIDS

The most American way I celebrated Christmas was by attending church in the morning. The 7 a.m. service followed the l'huere Africane by starting closer to 7:45. I had been informed that this would be Mass but not being Catholic, having this information did not actually give me insight on what to expect.

I sat on the back of the women and children's side of the almost fully gender segregated church. While I did not agree with this separation, I was not too disturbed there. It was a nice change to be surrounded by women rather than men during my usual working days. 

When the service began I was hardly reminded of my place and instead found myself quite entertained. I always heard Catholic churches in the States were very formal but this was hardly the case here. The choir was my favorite part. They put the African touch to all of the songs. Some I did not know, but my favorite was one I did, Gloria. It reminded me of cross-over classical music I listened to before. The tune was carried without a piano, nor hymnals; just their voices, drums, and a tambourine. 

The moments in between songs were not always as interesting and things sometimes got boring to be honest. Between the extensive local language translations, and odd (but maybe normal) rituals, I found myself sometimes rather tired and confused. Even by 10 a.m., the service still seemed to be in full swing, so I decided to leave in order to start getting ready for my next encounter with Papa Noël.

We met at an outdoor space next to the market called the Cultural Center. The open space has a built in concrete stage but everything else is a bring-it-yourself type of deal. The radio station brought over all their equipment which includes large, heavy speakers and about fifty rented plastic patio chairs. These chairs are called for during special events in my city, though really fancy events might have wooden ones too.

Once the children trickled in, accompanied by their mothers (no fathers present), the event started. As to be expected, the event time was scheduled for 3:30 p.m., which really meant 4:30 p.m. 

I tried to keep my Christmas spirit up, and found it was not hard to do with so many cute children. Throughout the event, they were called upon to play musical chairs, a racing game which involved filling a water bottle, and recited poems to the audience. After about two hours, Papa Noël distributed his gifts of stuffed animals to them, and the night was finished. I then went home to prepare myself a yummy, but very un-Christmasy meal of Minestrone soup and meatless stuffing. 
Following Christmas day, I got back to work with an anti-AIDS club. The high school students plan to educate their peers about HIV/AIDS, and we recently learned that a request I sent in for 2,000 condoms had gotten approved. Before I thought the members were ready to go out and inform their peers, I organized a training of trainers with them. 

Not being a health PCV, I was putting myself into some unknown territory. On top of that, I just barely brushed myself up on HIV/AIDS by looking at a PC manual that included information about trainings like this, along with a health volunteers' toolkit. 

To my surprise, when I arrived about ten minutes early a few students had already started showing up. After them, the rest took their time until about 8 a.m., which is when we got things started. 

During our last meeting, the group decided they wanted to cover: HIV/AIDS prevention with a condom demonstration, modes of transmission, and discrimination/stigmatization. Then, they would separate into groups according to these topics. I gave each group a few pages of information to read and be ready to present about their topic. 

When I started with the HIV/AIDS prevention group, it was clear that they had not read over their information and were a bit too shy to present. I took this as a hint that we needed to do a bit of an ice-breaker. On the spot, I wrote down and handed each person a fact or myth about HIV/AIDS. Then, I had them pick whether they though it was true or false, and explain why.

A few times during the game, I had to stop the group from discussing what was the correct answer, but things went better than I expected. Most of the students got the questions right, and I think that prepared their confidence for their group presentations. 

After the game, each group got up to present their topics. I corrected or made as few additions as possible but once or twice had to intervene to help or better explain some of the sessions. I tried to make sure everyone understood all the material before moving on to other things as well. 

Once they were comfortable, I got to watch them give the presentations. Some of them were very enthusiastic and even offered personal examples. The audience of their peers also did a great job of keeping attention when it was not their turn, and asked some great questions. I personally learned a lot from them about the culture here and got to know the students more.

At the end of the session, I had each person write down either something they learned or ask a question. To my surprise, the majority asked questions, many of which I will have to do some research on. 

I would say that overall the training was a success. There are still some things I have to improve upon and there is definitely more planning ahead, but this has been one of the most interesting and inspirational things I have done so far. 

I definitely look forward to seeing what type of work 2012 brings!