Toward a HIV Free Generation
Ebenezer Secondary School - October 27, 2017
HEAL International facilitates health education conversations in the communities where we work - Arusha, Tanzania and Phoenix, Arizona. Our programs are dedicated to reducing stigma around HIV/AIDS, increasing sexual health knowledge, and creating space for conversations about health topics that matter. Our Community Health Facilitators work in schools, with young people, and in community groups to deliver science based HIV prevention education and encourages young people to stand for an HIV free generation, even in the face of stigma.
“What I saw from the faces of these students was love and happiness, a group of young soldiers ready to wipe out HIV/AIDS from their communities.”
Haroun Jeremia, Community Health Facilitator
Our Community Health Facilitators generate a space for love, compassion, and freedom. A space where young people can talk about their health and well-being, where they can share their fears, and where they can speak freely about issues surrounding HIV/AIDS.
We facilitate health conversations all year round in Tanzania, and we recently visited Ebenezer Secondary School in Moshi. We want to share with you, through our Community Health Facilitators, what was (and always is) present for them during these conversations.
Sarah Mure, Community Health Facilitator:
"This year has been different for me while teaching. I am much more aware of the attitudes that are present in the classroom around conversations, and I refuse to step over them.
At Ebenezer, our class was having fun with us during the prevention conversation around HIV, but as soon as we began talking about testing---there was a sense of hopelessness in the room. Holly and I could feel that students had a "what's the point?" attitude, and we both decided to detour from our normal path and address the power that the students are.
I began to share about a friend of mine in the States who has been living with HIV for over 25 years. She has a family, she has a job, she is happy, and she is healthy. Just bringing up my friend, and talking about her stand against HIV stigma really intrigued the students. They began asking questions like, "she told you she has HIV?!?" "She tells the community she has HIV?!?" "Why would she do that?" It allowed the conversation to shift towards HIV stigma, and WHY it exists in the first place. We explored the cycle of HIV stigma with the students and they were able to see that stigma is absolutely insane, and it only perpetuates HIV in the community. Students began to say "so she tells people, because she has a virus" and they were able to distinguish their own negative thoughts and attitudes about HIV to see it for what it is---a virus. The students understood that my friend was fighting HIV stigma, just by talking about the virus and sharing with others that it is preventable, treatable and she is an example of living a long and healthy life with HIV.
I can't explain what happened in the classroom, but you could literally feel the heaviness of the conversation disappear. All of the fear, and uncertainty surrounding HIV was gone and students were eager to talk about what they could do to fight HIV stigma like my friend. Because we focused so much on HIV stigma and how we can fight it together, the conversation naturally surrounded creating an HIV free generation together. It is there that I rediscovered something for myself---
We don't need a cure to have an HIV free generation.
The most powerful moment at Ebenezer was encouraging students that the only way we can fight and beat HIV stigma is by having these conversations, and taking a stand for our communities to get tested and get treatment for HIV. Getting to see the students understand, and actively decide to take a stand for their community is something that will stay with my heart. Hearing students reply "yes" at the end of the class, when in the beginning I heard "no"s to the question "is hope in the conversation about HIV?" these are the moments I live for, the moments that clearly illustrate why we do what we do at HEAL. And finally, really getting present to the fact that we do NOT need a cure to achieve an HIV free generation, it starts in the classroom with 50 students who get for themselves that they are the power needed and they are the love needed to achieve health in their community.”
Godlisten Mbise, Tanzania Community Health Facilitator:
Going back to Ebenezer to teach brought me love and made me feel proud to be able to do what always my heart wanted to do: to help and support other people. This was actually the first time I handled a class by myself, and the first few minutes I was worried about how will it go. As it went on, I was surprised by the attention students were paying to what I was teaching and at some point I even asked them if they were understanding. They were loud and clear responding that they understand, which showed through their thoughtful questions. I also can't forget that when I finished teaching, a group of students came and called me 'SIR' and ask me about how efficiently and effectively using condoms can protect someone from contracting HIV. That was the best moment, and I kept it in my head when I was in the bus heading back home.
The other thing that roaming through my head is thinking about how beautiful and loving the HEAL International team is, and how big the army is we are creating in our community. With this army, we are one step closer to an HIV free generation.
Holly Celaya, Community Health Facilitator:
Teaching at Ebenezer was exciting. Something Sarah and I really tried to do was be fun for our second class, and what that looked like was being comfortable and at times being silly and listening to what would calm the students down so the conversation would actually be a conversation and not a lecture. I wanted them to feel like talking about HIV and sexual health could be exciting and engaging, not boring or strict. Once we started teaching, the vibe in the class was pleasantly relaxed. It was really cool to be in a space where everyone was involved and participating and feeling free to express themselves. We were dancing and laughing together, all while learning about HIV.
With all of that self expression happening, we moved on to a conversation about testing. And suddenly the vibe became weirdly tense, as if the fun we were having and the open, easy conversation never happened. It was okay to talk about transmission and prevention, but testing was not okay. Sarah and I got to be with them during these moments, and I recognized that for them, talking about HIV wasn’t a problem, but applying it to their own lives was. As our conversation went on, Sarah changed it from a conversation about testing to a conversation about HIV stigma and hope. She described the life of our friend, who is living with HIV, and I could hear students bewilderment as they learned it’s possible to not only be living with HIV, but to be happy and an advocate for others living with HIV. I watched the faces of the students as they were thinking about what Sarah had said. That was a magical moment for me. I witnessed them realizing that HIV is truly just a virus. We learned together that we can have hope and take a stand.
For myself, it was incredible to recognize I’m at a place where I can see what would make a difference. Sarah and I could have continued talking about testing and ignoring the hopelessness in the room. We didn’t, and because of that, there was joy and peace for those that were scared. I’m grateful to be surround by a team that is so passionate and powerful. When we work with young people, all of us together discover freedom, love, and hope.
Haroun Jeremia, Tanzania Community Health Facilitator:
Having conversations with secondary level students of Ebenezer about HIV/AIDS was a beautiful moment to me. Their readiness and desire to learn brought hope and new energy on fighting against HIV in my community.
It was more than me standing before them and teaching about HIV, it was a moment where I had to be patient and listen carefully to their flooding questions on how to prevent mother-to-child transmission. They were very active and willing to learn.
My best moment is when all students vowed to put into practice what they have learned by protecting themselves from HIV and spreading the knowledge to their friends and families!
It is hard for me to forget when I was about to leave after teaching, suddenly a group of young students started shouting calling my name waving from their class windows. These were students I taught with my team a couple of months back, others were running to me and asking me when are we going to be back.
What I saw from the faces of these students was love and happiness, a group of young soldiers ready to wipe out HIV/AIDS from their communities.
I will always remember this moment.
Megan Allen, Community Health Facilitator and Tanzania Country Director:
As I was facilitating a discussion to a group of students at Ebenezer, this kid sitting in the back of the room raised his hand after every other statement I said and asked a well-thought question that directly contradicted what I had just said. I started feeling like “Jeez kid, can’t you just listen?!” During the break he came up to me and asked me another question, which led to a very relevant point that I hadn’t covered yet.
As I walked downstairs, I realized that all he wanted to do was learn. He wasn’t questioning me to test my knowledge (or my patience) but, instead, he was questioning me because these are the things he had heard and he genuinely wanted to know. And, he's not the only one; he was just the most brave to speak out in class, something that contributes to everyone.
I also got the opportunity to share with the students about why I do the work that I do. I got to talk to them about how prevalence rates for young women are not decreasing in parts of the world. And, about how the only way we can protect our young sisters and brothers is to take a stand in the face of stigma, get tested, and share the things we learn.
I felt really in the presence of love. I felt like the students were together with me and were ready to fight. We are working with communities to develop young leaders in health, and I feel so lucky to be a part of that.
If you are interested in learning more about our work, becoming a part of our Community Health Facilitator Program in Arizona or in Tanzania, or having our team come to your school, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All Our Love.