Feature story

Scouts get the HIV message

16 August 2007

As part of the international scout jamboree held in Britain over the summer, UNAIDS ran workshops on HIV prevention, personal responsibility in HIV transmission and respect for the human rights of positive people.

40,000 teenagers from all over the world attended
this year's world scout jamboree.

This summer, residents of Chelmsford, a town in eastern England, woke up to an unusual array of sights and sounds.

The banging of early morning drums and excited screeches of hundreds of teenage boys and girls filled the air – this was the international scout jamboree, and the 40,000 teenagers attending from all over the world wanted to make sure everyone knew it!

For UNAIDS staff attending the jamboree to run special workshops on HIV prevention, personal responsibility in HIV transmission and respect for the human rights of positive people, it was a bit of an eye opener. “We would look at each other and think: ‘Are you as lost as I am?’ ” laughs Bhatupe Mhango, coordinator of UN Plus – the UN system-wide group of staff living with HIV, who took part in the event with Alex McLelland, an intern with UNAIDS, in the Civil Society Partnerships Unit. “But we became hooked on those sessions every morning. I still hear them drumming and humming in my ears,” she says.

This was a particularly significant jamboree, as it marked the centenary of scouting and 40,000 teenagers attended from all over the world. UNAIDS had an area in the Global Development Village, a section dedicated to workshops on human rights and the work of UN agencies.

“The scouts as a movement has so much potential to mobilize towards the HIV response,” says Alex, who is studying for a degree in International Development at York University in Toronto, Canada . “They are eager to get further engaged. With approximately 28 million young people as members you can see the possibilities.”

Bhatupe and Alex planned and ran five workshops on the topic “HIV Sensitisation and Safeguarding Human Rights.” One of the UNAIDS objectives was to initiate a dialogue on the need for a policy to work with HIV positive scouts, and for UN Plus to look for possible partnerships.

“We established that there are some Positive scouts in several countries, particularly Africa, and UN Plus could foster a partnership with them,” says Bhatupe.

Over three days, he and Bhatupe spoke to youngsters from Norway , Germany, Italy, Chile, Brazil, Denmark, Britain, Turkey and Finland.

In spite of the big subject, it was all very informal. “Most of the workshops took place outside because the young scouts wanted to lie on the grass,” says Bhatupe. She and Alex shared their personal stories as people living with HIV. Scouts asked questions about stigma, treatment, nutrition guidelines and human rights issues for people living with HIV.  

Bhatupe Mhango, coordinator of UN Plus, during a
live radio interview with the jamboree radio station,
promoting the workshops and encouraging scouts to
be aware of the means to protect themselves from
HIV transmission.

Bhatupe also did a live radio interview with the jamboree radio station, to promote the workshops and encourage scouts to be aware of the means of protecting themselves from HIV transmission. 

There were the obvious drawbacks of talking about sex to teenage boys: “A memorable moment was watching young, Italian boys laughing hysterically at a UNFPA-led workshop we participated in, demonstrating male condoms using bananas,” says Bhatupe.

But many of the scouts showed real insight and understanding into the issue – Alex and Bhatupe were delighted by a group of 14-16 year old girls from Chile, who were well informed about HIV, AIDS and sex, having studied the subject at school. The girls held a debate on abstinence versus early sex.

“The maturity of the debate convinced me that the message on HIV prevention and empowerment of young girls is getting across,” says Bhatupe.

The girls were evenly divided - indicating that no one method is the obvious solution to managing yourself as a young woman in a relationship. 

The views expressed included:

“If I love my boyfriend and I trust him…and if he has gone for an HIV test and tells me he is HIV negative, why should I not express my feelings for him and have sex with him?  If that is what I want to do, I will just go ahead…if you love someone, you can not put controls on what you can do with that person.”

“For me I say no. I have to wait until I am married before I have sex. It is scary. I am scared of getting HIV or falling pregnant so the best thing to do is to wait.”

For Bhatupe and Alex, the UNAIDS messages were getting across: prevention, personal responsibility in HIV transmission, the need for more support and less stigma for positive people.

Alex was encouraged to see so much focus on AIDS at the jamboree.

“There were other workshops from UNFPA, UNICEF, UNESCO, as well as the South African and Ugandan Scout associations. The Girl Guides did a big presentation about HIV. The ILO discussed child labour and vulnerability to HIV.

“There’s a quite a lot of awareness among the Scouts. It was gratifying to see so much going on,” he said.


Visit the world scout jamboree web site
More information on young people and HIV

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