HIV/AIDS class

Thanks to Kate in Cambodia for participating in our programs and writing about it too.

“On Tuesday morning, the first day of my HIV/AIDS teaching, a pre-test was administered to my class. There were 17 pretty basic questions just to see what they already knew… or didn’t know. True or False. “AIDS is a disease for only immoral people,” all but one said TRUE. “Mosquitos transmit HIV,” half TRUE, half FALSE. “Condoms have small holes that allow HIV to get through,” again all but one said TRUE. As I scored the pre-tests, each grade became more alarming than the last. These are 20-30 year olds who have been to secondary school, and most of them are in University. They are all educated, how can their preceptions of HIV/AIDS be so wrong?! I knew immediately we’d have our work cut out for us.

Christina and I spent Monday as a lesson planning day, modifying the curicculum I used in Tanzania this past January to fit Cambodian culture; from what foods to feature in the nutrition portion, to Cambodian statistics on HIV/AIDS prevalence and mortality. We made games, flipcharts, and student manuals, assuming that most of what we were teaching would be just reinforcing what they already knew. I didn’t expect University educated Cambodians to have more skewed ideas about HIV/AIDS than uneducated Tanzanian villagers.

Throughout the week, we covered basic biology, disease progression, infected and uninfected body fluids, transmission, prevention, nutrition, health and hydration, life skills like communication and decision making, and empowerment. Because of the pre-test results, we were sure to reiterate whenever and wherever possible, that ANYONE can get HIV, not just immoral people like they seemed to think, and that you can’t tell by looking at someone if they are infected, another question they failed miserably on. Teaching and discussing HIV/AIDS is a tricky subject because you want to convey that people with HIV/AIDS are just like everyone else, that they shouldn’t be treated any differently and that they deserve to be respected in society, but at the same time you don’t want to make it seem like its something to be taken lightly. In college I wrote a paper about HIV/AIDS in America, before I started traveling to learn for myself and teach others on the subject. In my paper, I discussed how America has dismissed HIV/AIDS as a serious problem. My generation learned about it once in school, but not really knowing anything about it, we don’t see it as a threat to our society. We’re not afraid of it and careful like we should be. As research for my paper I sent away for a magazine for HIV positve gay men. The magazine was full of ads for different HIV medications, most featured big strong men rock climbing or weightlifing, and one that I especially recall was a man breaking the ribbon at a marathon finish line. What do ads like these tell the audience? It implies that HIV is no big deal, take the medicine being advertised and you’ll be fine, able to run marathons and climb mountians. Yes, people in the US with HIV are generally healthy due to proper nutrition and an availablity of medication, but the message being sent out is that HIV is a simple issue that can be easily taken care of with a small pill. The ads show that people with HIV are just like everyone else, but they lack the message that it is a serious disease. It’s not an easy thing to discuss and teach, you want to make people accepting of something while trying to scare them from it at the same time. We’re trying to make the sudents understand that it’s a terrible, lethal infection that they should be extremely cautious not to contract, but also try to get them not to treat those infected any differently. Easier said than done.

This week we taught two classes, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, both of similar ages and background knowledge. The translators we used had a difficult time, and that aspect was much different from Tanzania where we had fluent English and Swahili counterparts, but we made it work. Each class asked great questions and we made sure not to progress until we were certain they understood. The post-test scores came in yesterday and reflected a big improvement in knowledge. Like in Tanzania, we talked about how they can share what they have learned with others to spread awareness and reduce stigma. Knowledge + Attitude + Skills = Behavior change, not just in themselves but in others.

Thank you 🙂

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