Peer educators raising HIV awareness through sport in Trinidad and Tobago
03 June 2009
A version of this story was first published at UNICEF.org
A UNICEF-supported programme called 'Kicking AIDS Out' (KAO) has recently begun in Speyside, northern Tobago, by the Trinidad and Tobago Alliance for Sport and Physical Education (TTASPE). The new programme uses sports and games to teach young people and adolescents about HIV. Speyside is a small community that is best known as a destination for fishermen and divers. In 2007, UNICEF and TTASPE, along with the Red Cross of Trinidad and Tobago, teamed up to conduct a youth-led Vulnerable Community Assessment. Based on this assessment, Speyside was selected as the first area to initiate 'Kicking AIDS Out'.
Training for adolescents
Soon after the assessment, UNICEF and TTASPE began conducting workshops to train adolescents to become KAO peer facilitators. Kalifa Martin, 15, is one these young trainees.
"I heard there was an HIV workshop at the community centre and decided to go and learn more about HIV, because I knew it was important to get the right information," Kalifa says. "What I wasn't expecting was that I would learn about it through games and fun activities. I liked this and invited my sisters to attend and we are now all involved in the programme."
Growing up in Speyside, Kalifa saw firsthand how AIDS can have a ripple effect.
"When something happens to one person, it affects the whole community," she says. "I want more people to get tested and start making wise choices. I would like Speyside to be an example to other communities."
Increasing the level of knowledge of HIV among young people in Trinidad and Tobago is an important step. According to a recent UNAIDS/WHO/UNICEF country report, in 2007 56% of young people aged 15-24 had correct knowledge of, and rejected myths about, sexual transmission of the virus. A significant minority, 12%, in this group had also had sex before the age of 15. The same report suggests that the situation is especially serious for young women as they are over three times more likely than their male counterparts to be living with the virus (0.3% of boys compared to 1% of girls aged 15-24).
'I want to help people'
Since her training, Kalifa has conducted many ‘Kicking AIDS Out’ workshops – where lectures are replaced by educational games that resonate with young people. One such game is similar to dodgeball, except that in the KAO version, being hit with the ball symbolizes being exposed to HIV. The message is that anyone who doesn’t protect themselves is vulnerable to infection.
"It is through projects such as KAO that UNICEF hopes to empower young persons such as Kalifa to actively re-create their communities as places where young persons make informed choices," explains UNICEF Trinidad and Tobago HIV Officer Marlon Thompson.
There are currently about 20 peer educators like Kalifa in the KAO programme. And she knows that the initiative is having positive results. She has seen her peers in Speyside become more knowledgeable about AIDS and then readily share their knowledge with their family members and friends.
The programme has also changed Kalifa, who now dreams of becoming a doctor. "I want to help people living with HIV and even find a cure for it," she says.
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