Ethiopia: Teenagers receive HIV/AIDS peer education
15 October 2010

JRS provides information to refugee teenagers living in Addis Ababa about the spread of HIV/AIDS (Peter Balleis SJ/JRS)
"Unless you take action, knowing about HIV/AIDS in itself does not stop the spread of the disease."

Addis Ababa, 27 September 2010 — Twenty-seven teenage refugees have received peer education for peer educators as part of the JRS programme to prevent the spread of HIV and in line with JRS’s commitment to strengthen health education and training for displaced persons. The programme focuses on the younger generation whose immaturity and lack of information and knowledge often put their health at risk.

Jointly facilitated by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and JRS staff in the JRS Refugee Community Centre between 6-8 September, the workshop focused on explaining the contents of the Youth Action Kit, developed by the Health Communication Partnership, a USAID funded project working to prevent HIV transmission among sexually active adolescents.

The Youth Action Kit provides vital information to teenagers, such as the difference between HIV and AIDS, ways of contracting the virus, available treatment and areas of the world most affected by disease. It also helps young people discuss the stigma that infected people and their families face, offering examples of successful programmes. The kit is more than a source of information; it seeks to help bring about behavioural change.

The first two days of the workshop were classroom teaching, complemented with an excursion on the third day to the west of Addis Ababa around 11km away from the centre, where more than 400 HIV-positive children live in a centre managed by the Missionaries of Charity. JRS organised the visit to complement the theory the teenagers learn in the classroom with some real life experience on the ground.

"Unless you take action, knowing about HIV/AIDS in itself does not stop the spread of the disease. The best way to practice is by discussing it with your parents, breaking the long silence and sharing ideas on sexuality, considered as taboo in many African cultures, listening to the problems of your friends and performing different activities in the community", JRS Refugee Community Centre Project Director, Mulugeta W/Eyesus, said at the closing ceremony.

Many organisations across the globe are placing students in the role of educators, for the very important task of preventing HIV among themselves and their classmates. Peer education is based on the reality that many people make changes not only based on what they know, but in accordance with the opinions and actions of their close, trusted peers.

Peer educators can communicate and understand in a way that the best-intentioned adults cannot, and can serve as role models for change. With this advantage, they can help raise awareness, provide accurate information, and help their classmates develop the skills to change their behaviour. 

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Angelika Mendes
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