Olympics 2008: AIDS awareness training for young volunteers in China

Bookmark and Share

Feature story

Olympics 2008: AIDS awareness training for young volunteers in China

25 June 2008

Fun and games during HIV training at
Beijing Modern Vocational and Technical
College. Photo credit: UNAIDS

It is early Sunday morning but the auditorium at Beijing Modern Vocational and Technical College is already full. Several hundred Olympic volunteers are chatting; waiting for the day’s training to start. The local representative of Beijing Youth League opens the workshop energetically with a clapping exercise. This course is very different to what students normally experience at this academic institution. Laughing and playing along the way, the students are learning about AIDS through a variety of games, presentations, quizzes and interactive question and answer sessions.

Countering discrimination

At the closing session, trainer Yu Xuan takes centre stage and asks the students what they think the probability is of them meeting a person living with HIV. The students say that they think that the probability of this is very low. “Well, you are in luck today,” Yu Xuan says. “I am HIV positive!” Most have never met an HIV positive person before and find it hard to believe that this young, handsome and energetic trainer is HIV positive. Immediately they recognize that they had false ideas and preconceptions about people living with HIV.

“When I was tested as HIV positive, I thought my life would end very soon. With the help and referral by local health services, I participated in activities organized by local HIV volunteers where I learned more about HIV, and got to know new friends,” Yu Xuan tells the volunteers. “I became aware that I could help others by sharing my knowledge, dispelling the myths about HIV, and communicate with the public as an HIV positive speaker.”

HIV is a reality rather than a distant possibility

The facilitator living with HIV, who are part of the team training Olympic volunteers, has been trained though a project called “Positive Talks”. This project is implemented by Marie Stopes International and supported by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The contribution of people living with HIV in China’s HIV prevention efforts is extremely valuable as they put a human face to the AIDS epidemic, which helps to reduce the discriminatory attitudes towards people living with HIV. They reinforce HIV prevention messages and make an impact on audiences by presenting HIV as a reality rather than a distant possibility.

“Many young people do not have the right information on AIDS, fuelling false fears, stigma and discrimination. This is bad in itself, but also hampers HIV prevention work,” said Bernhard Schwartländer, the UNAIDS Country Coordinator in China.

“Engaging some of China’s most capable young people and making them the messengers of positive and correct knowledge on HIV can help dispel inaccurate myths and break down the stigma and discrimination against people affected by HIV,” he said.

7,500 volunteers trained at 13 different universities

UNAIDS staff at the Beijing Modern
Vocational and Technical College training
young Olympic Volunteers.
Photo credit: UNAIDS

The training course is part of the volunteers’ preparation for service during the Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Games. Around 7,500 volunteers will have participated in the course in 13 different universities, while 100,000 volunteers will receive a basic information package on HIV. The training is a unique opportunity to equip Chinese youth with important knowledge and skills on HIV prevention and how to counter discrimination.

“We hope that through this training, Olympics volunteers, as ambassadors for Beijing citizens, will be better prepared to inclusively welcome all groups of people to Beijing during the Games, especially those living with HIV. It is our hope that Olympic volunteers will share this knowledge and look for opportunities to continue volunteering on important health and development issues such as raising awareness of HIV,” said UNDP Country Director Subinay Nandy.

Joint UN effort

The Olympic volunteer training programme is being convened by UNAIDS and United Nations Volunteers (UNV) and implemented in collaboration with the United Nations system in China, Beijing Youth League, Red Cross Society of China, Marie Stopes International (MSI) China.

The training teams include HIV experts from eight UN agencies: ILO, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNAIDS, UNODC, WHO and UNIFEM. The project, co-funded by UNAIDS, UNDP and UNV, is one of several initiatives between UNDP, UNV, the Beijing Youth League and other local partners within a partnership project aimed at strengthening volunteerism for development in China through the Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Games.