Involving youths in prevention efforts educates them about HIV/AIDS and gives them a sense of responsibility and pride. With the right skills and information, youths can be very effective messengers for they speak the same language as the group they are trying to reach.
Maisha Youth Against AIDS runs training workshops in peer education. Young people get the opportunity to express their feelings, share their experiences, and build a sense of community. They learn to participate in decision-making, to make the right choices and judgments..
While we support cultural and religious values such as the commitment to faithfulness and abstinence, we recognize that in today’s multi-cultural society these ideals are strongly challenged and even seem unattainable. Globalization has brought with it a rather new system of “values” that are attractive to modern people. In such an unstable and confusing environment, MYAA tries to impart life skills to young people. These include skills in conducting negotiations, conflict resolution, critical thinking, decision-making, communication and assertiveness.
Such skills keep the youths well equipped to guard against some pseudo-cultural and pseudo-traditional practices clandestinely established in practices such as female genital multilation. Such practices contribute to sexual abuse and harassment of young girls by older men. Life skills also help young boys and girls to learn to relate to one another as equals, to work in groups, build self-esteem and resist both peer and adult pressure which has seen a lot of youth engage in high-risk behaviour.
MYAA sometimes runs workshops to train youths from groups sponsored by the National AIDS Control Council (NACC). In this way MYAA is able to have a much wider influence, and thus helps to influence the behaviour of Kenya youths in definite consistent ways. Such a partnership also enables both organizations to reach out to the poorest and most disadvantaged youths, and in turn highlight some of their problems to the government.
MYAA tries to be present to the youths. Presence means “to-be-there-for-someone”. This presence must therefore be reciprocated with awareness on the part of the target population (the youths). The biggest question at this moment is then: are the youths fully aware of the need to fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS? We are painfully conscious of the impatience of the young. Some have tried everything: alcohol, drugs, sex, sports, exotic dress, music, and switching religions to the extent of ending up in satanic cults. This is further compounded by our collapsed economy. Many are rushing from one obsession to the other without ever stopping to reflect and evaluate, save for the dim realization ‘that it wasn’t what they really wanted‘. So what assurance do we have that the youths currently engaged in the fight against AIDS are not passers by waiting for their next flight to the next unclear and unknown destination?
Indeed, the fight against HIV/AIDS has to be a personal endeavour and it too has to be one’s commitment for life. Youths can no longer afford to fight the battle and surrender halfway because the disease is still as threatening as ever before. This calls for all of us to be of great help in facilitating, promoting, guiding and sustaining the little, but significant hard work that the youths have managed thus far.
Processes of secularization involving a shift in personal world views from one in which the individual is viewed as subjected to larger forces, such as religious doctrines or fate, to one in which the individual is viewed as an autonomous being. Belief in the ideas of personal freedom of choice and the exercise of individual rights are reflected in new patterns of family formation, and attitudes toward fertility regulation. Transitions such as these can affect all efforts to abstain.
Changing relationships between the generations, particularly the emergence of sexually active youth cultures and the relative empowerment of youths with respect to their elders and to traditional authority in general pose a serious challenge to the practice of abstinence. With extended periods of education and delayed marriage, middle-class urban adolescents and young unmarried adults become more and more independent of parental control which leaves them with much more liberty to engage in premarital sexual activities.
In Kenya and Nakuru County, as in many county, youths are experiencing a rapid and perplexing change of values, attitudes and behaviour toward their parents, their peers and the opposite sex. In the context of rising age at marriage and increasing educational attainment, the lifestyles of middle-class urban youth are becoming more westernized. Popular media promote individual freedom. Premarital sex, pregnancy, abortion and STDs and HIV are on the rise.
We cannot choose the cultural context in which we live. But we do have some form of control about our personal choices and can choose what we want. We therefore need to strive to make choices that will promote “an AIDS FREE GENERATION”.