Mitigating Aids impact among the Youth: Lovelife SA

“I get laid in two days” Myth’s and challenges in delaying sexual debut
My experiences with Love Life

Being in Cape Town has it own fun. Thursday looks like was set to be one of those days where I would fill my blog with a million and one stories. I have come into contact with Love Life an adolescent and youth sexual socio-life skills development programme in South Africa that has exploited all means of mediums to reach to its young population. A session with Love Life Chief Executive Officer Dr. David Harrison is fascinating. I had several questions when I had an opportunity to jump into the Love Life train. Its not my first interaction with the programme, and I should say every time I do I learn new ideas, new innovative ways of tackling youth challenges posed by the HIV and Aids, poverty and general socio-economic environment.
Guess what, the poor are the most affected, you say I know, but the people worst affected are the ones in the worst townships. In informal urban settings and rural farms, Aids is hitting hard, very hard in simple English.
In formal urban dwellings and traditional rural areas, HIV prevalence is low. The Love Life research further tells you that access and use of condoms are totally a different story.
I enjoyed the part where 66 percent of young women did not use contraception when they had sex.
28 percent they do that because the want a baby, 8 percent want to show that they are mature while six percent do it to get respect from their partners.
Interestingly only five percent use sex without protection as a leverage to make their partners marry them.
Hear this, only three percent are forced against their will while in countries like South Africa where there are social welfare grants two percent would do it to fall pregnant to claim benefits.
These are isolated findings but tell a very interesting story, sex without protection has a lot of dimensions, lots of explanation and those that are working in the field have more and many reasons to check if there work can answer these questions.
The ability by Love Life to unearth this information makes an interesting reading.
One the poor and informal setting story is one scary, I would deal with it later. The issue of our companies who pay people peanuts and make noise about corporate social responsibility with one time donations is another.
What about the ability for young women to negotiate sex, what about transactional sex among the poor communities and how about talking to men between 29-40 who have the highest HIV prevalence but are dating the 16-22 young females.
These are stories I believe will allow us return to sobriety when trying to find ways of mitigating the HIV and Aids challenge.
But the story of Love Life is unique. During the Nelson Mandela awards at the Cape of Good Hope Castle, Love Life activist a young man from Port Elizabeth was given an opportunity to recite the citation in honour of one of the 2007 award winners, the Nobel Peace Prize recipient Wangari Maathai from Kenya. In his own words, “It was unimaginable that a mere me from the unknown part of South Africa would speak before such a distinguished gathering bearing names of two African greatest names.”
The names are Nelson Mandela, the man we all love could life forever and the Kenyan woman whose story of determination and courage in a continent seen as backward and oppressive towards its women (though Asia and Arab world’s can compete for honours in my eyes) is a contrast to such a view.
Giving a voice to the young girl and boy, empowering them not as mouth pieces but as leaders in their own right and allowing them freedom to develop own direction to realize their hopes, dreams and aspirations is the only way we make headways and impact to reduce new infections, manage the existing infections and make long term investment in reducing overall impact of Aids.
In terms of Love Life, they are only able to reach 40 percent of South African young people, but the quality of the service delivery is unmatched and the investment I believe will bring long term benefits in terms of mitigating Aids.
Of course, my heading talks of getting laid. Love Life has a train that moves from one area into another on weekly basis and there according to David include comprehensive awareness, teachers skills training and setting up of strong structure managed by young people, run by young people for young people. Wow it sounds like young people’s democracy.
I had a chance to speak to an area Coordinator and interact with 57 young people from the age of 12 to 23 who came to the train for the purpose of our programme.
As a youth worker to core, I know staged events; I know orchestrated speeches and rehearsed theatre. Love Life young people looked free relaxed and were willing to be engaged on one to one basis.
The ground breaker (Impitshis) in my bus was fun, but the coordinator was another case study. Free talking young man, who moved from crime to return to a path of youth counselor.
But for everyday there is one Captain Jack Sparrow. We were all in the middle of discussions and I asked a question, how many of you have sex, at what age and how does it go.
A young girl was sure that her colleagues in class were not having sex at all.
When I asked if people were dating at all, someone added, “what do you do when you see a girl you like.”
If Sparrow talks of wishy wishy poko poko with cannibals, the young man whose name was only given as Tshepo, had it for the team.
“If I like a girl, I tell her,” he started with an innocent look.
“If she doesn’t like me, I keep telling her, do good and funny things to her and sometimes even lie to her,” he added, stating that most of times it ends up well and they go into a relationship.
“Do you have sex and how soon do you do it?” another curious Journalist shot a question.
“Normally after two days into the relationship. I have sex two times a week,” a confident Tshepo shot back, some discomfort could be seen among the peer counselors, one young woman am would have fainted.
But the young man had more shocks in store, “I don’t use condoms with my girls.”
Oops, there it was. Amid information, there was seated a well informed young man who believe otherwise. He had more.
“Are you aware of the consequence so of having unprotected sex,” asked a visibly concerned Nigerian Journalist as the rest of her colleagues shook their heads.
“You mean pregnant, no, my sperm is so weak I can’t impregnate a girl,” he said coolly. He was donning a scots farmer hat and a black shirt with while collar.
Suddenly everyone wanted to explain how the programme works and how youth like Tshepo are among the informed but still believe sex without protection is very much okey.
I was smiling. I remembered by counseling days especially outreach in schools. Secondary schools all the girls in my team would refuse to facilitate the main session which was basically a sex talk in a school hall.
I had fun of doing it all the time.
After giving the famous 101 ways of having sex without penetration, one guy at the corner when you asked any last question before we close, would ask a simple question that would send all counselors scampering, “Can you demonstrate how a girl can masturbate a young man?”
I have learnt many lessons and such young people exist in life. Tshepo is a well informed young man. Sex is a very complicated topic and in Africa, the self imposed conservatism in debating it openly adds colour to the problem.
Myths are rampant. A counselor on the love train Mable cited another myth among youth in Cape Town, “They say if you don’t have sex, sperm will come to your brain and you will go mad.”
How do you deal with such problem? How do you work to ensure that Information given to young people is not limited to one-time affair and people go back in their rooms and have unprotected sex?
What about the issues which associate with people’s cultural and traditional beliefs.
I believe there as an opportunity for the media to raise the debate on young men like Tshepo. Amid high teenage pregnancy rates, Tshepo will wake up one day with a kid who looks like him and infected with HIV.
Young people discuss sex among themselves not with their families. I have always find it amusing when I hear adverts asking parents to discuss sex with their kids. Not even in Europe or USA have I heard parents talk sex with their kids.
Very few parents that do, mainly do it under duress and there is a rare openness between a parent and a kid.
If you were a parent, how comfortable will you be to hear that your 16 year old girl is “doing it” with your 42 year friend.
Investing in youth and the quality as assured by David and evidenced by the services provided by Love Life is one way Africa would realise its dream of an ‘Aids free generation.”
Unfortunately most youth programmes in many countries are piecemeal activities.
This has to change.
Going back to Tshepo, how would you ensure behavior change?
“Sustained personal contact is the only way,” explained David. I agree.
The activities that have been designed for years, depend on donor funding, most funding is erratic and has too many conditions attached. You can’t submit a proposal twice stating that you want to continue talking to young people in the same are for 5 years.
Is it that our donors or researchers are interested more in events than long term impact?
Investing in long term, sustained service delivery and empowerment of young people within their own realm and leadership would bring the desired results.
Tshepo might be one in a million to state his belief. But what about those in the deep rural areas, do they need a one time intervention funded sparingly to change their life long held beliefs.
Love life can be a model that Africa needs to adopt.

Comments

KOKO
It seems this Love Life thing is good. This article goes to the heart of the matter. Boys would go for sex without penetration, but girls, am sure, would have a thing or two about the whole thing!!!! Tshepo is the tyical African youth! Bring these things to Malawi man! What are the CBOs doing, apart from ripping NAC of money! Keep up the work my brother!!
Rachel said…
Love Life is doing admirable work, much more money needs to be spent on supporting preventative strategies. Developing treatment and ways to help those already living with HIV is essential, but prevention is the long term solution. Sometimes it doesn't seem so attractive to financial backers though.

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