We have been in Monduli for the past two weeks doing Day Camp for secondary school kids . Day Camp was an amazing experience. I was at Engutoto Secondary School which was about a 15 minute walk from where we were staying. It was obvious that the kids were there to learn from day one. But, the workshop definitely didn’t have a school feel to it. We balanced learning with fun,and it’s definitely a lot easier to have fun when you are talking about topics like relationships and reproduction. Once they got comfortable with seeing us wazungu (people of European descent) daily, we really got a chance to get to know them. We even participated in the occasional club-like dance party. The kids were so amazing to work with and it was apparent who stood out as peer educators from the first few days.
It was interesting to hear the rumors that the kids had heard about things associated with sex. There were some who were adament about the ability of HIV to pass through a latex condom. Others had heard that if you put a condom in the sun you could see the bugs that are inside. We did our best to squash these myths by filling a condom up with water, like a water balloon, to show that there were NO holes in it and leaving one in the sun to prove there were no bugs!
Many questions surrounded HIV when we got to that topic during the end of the first week. Most of them mainly concerned transmission, not surprisingly. They wanted to know if you could get HIV from sharing clothing, touching, eating food that an HIV+ person prepared or even buying fruit from someone with HIV. It was obvious that the stigma surrounding HIV in the village was intense. Even during the second week when I told them that Mama Betty, the HIV+ woman who is an expert on good nutrition, was coming to speak to them Wednesday afternoon, there were gasps from all around the room. They couldn’t believe that they were going to meet someone with HIV… even though some of the people that they come in contact with daily might be HIV+ and not even know their status. Some of the kids, themselves, might even have HIV and not even know it. We even got a question in our anonymous question box saying “I have experienced some of the symptoms of HIV that Mama Betty talked about and I am afraid to get tested. What should I do?”
One of the kids, a 17 year old boy named Japheth, asked me if people do this kind of training in the United States. I couldn’t even remember the last time I heard anyone talking about HIV in the U.S. as anything other than a faraway problem. When I tried to imagine an HIV+ person coming to talk to my high school, I literally couldn’t even picture it. It would never have happened. I’m sure if an HIV training was given in the U.S., the questions would have been just as ridiculous, if not more. Even though our country is “progressive” and completely “developed,” I believe the stigma is just as strong as it is here – as HIV talked about much less than it is in Tanzania.
As the two weeks wore on, and as we started to review all that the students had learned, it was obvious that they had begun to embrace the truths about HIV – that it is something to fear in a way that keeps your behavior safe and your life healthy, but not in a way that makes you fear the people who already have contracted it. I think, overall, that is what was so amazing about the camp. When they go home, they will have the tools to stay HIV free and to council their friends to do the same. But even more than that, they will know that if someone tells them that they have HIV, that person does not have a death sentence. They can also maintain normal relationships with those people without being infected.
Like I told the kids at the closing ceremony… this past two weeks will definitely be something I will remember for the rest of my life and I am positive that it will be one of the highlights of my 3 months in Tanzania. –Carrie M.