MAKING MOVES TOWARDS AN HIV GENERATION
The Month Of Youth Against Aids has come and gone, but HIV is not restricted by boundaries of age or date, and so the Vision 2016 battle to secure a generation free of the pandemic goes on.
But is it an impossible dream?
One group of young people dedicated to the cause of raising awareness amongst their peers, is the drama group at Botho College in Francistown.
This is what they thought about the challenges they face along the way.
Despite the seemingly obvious dangers and constant warnings it seems that promiscuous sex is still the hottest gig in town. Is the HIV message getting through?
Lesedi: The problem comes from our attitude about sexual issues – our government has done at lot in terms of education.
Sex is no big deal in that it is freely available, so doing it is nothing special, and being young we have a tendency to live for the moment with little or no thought to the consequences.
Acirfa:Education is one thing, but you have to want to change to take it seriously.
Gaogalelwe: That’s right – the initiative has to come from us. We need to be pro-active and not wait for someone or some organization to come and lecture us.
Tshidiso: It’s true young people take sex lightly. It is all around and one of life’s pleasures. For some sex is everything, and if things go wrong it is just the risk you take.
Acirfa: We are being exposed to new things and we are after experimenting a lot, but we lack information. Not enough is being done to ensure messages about HIV/AIDS reach young people.
What is your understanding of the expression ‘screwing around?’ And is it the norm?
Gaogalelwe: It’s when one has more than one sexual partner. Hopping from one boy and one bed to another, or when even if you are going out with just one boy, he has many other girlfriends – so like it or not, you become part of a chain.
My boyfriend and I are both students and both involved in the battle against HIV.
I would like to believe we are practicing what we preach.
AcirFa: What is often happening is a situation where for example I date a girl knowing very well she has a steady boyfriend and I also have a girlfriend.
This sets the chain in motion and increases the HIV risk. It may seem obvious, but the reality behind the fact is often ignored.
Kagiso: It also applies to a situation where you are dating someone today, then in a week or so you dump him or her or get dumped yourself, and then it’s back to the hunt.
Tomorrow you are with someone else and the process starts again.
What can be done to change this mind-set?
Gaogalelwe: As young people we are more vulnerable because we still want to experiment.
Our eyes are all over the place, and our hormones rampant, so we try out many things.
We imagine what it might be like to date a Faith or aSenwelo,and as they are likely imaging the same thing,making the connection is not so difficult.
Personally I resist having many partners because the moment I sleep around I believe I lose my worth and dignity as a woman.
Tshidiso: One reason that influences young girls into having many lovers is love of money.
This is why we find ourselves selling our bodies and putting ourselves in all sorts of danger.
Ideally we should be concentrating on our studies and using our allowances wisely, but if a guy buys you a car, he is going to expect to get the required mileage out of the deal.
Lesedi: I believe as youth we need to set higher standards. If we had a sense of pride we would not go to a bar or meet a guy here at college and then jump into bed with him that same evening.
At the moment I have a boyfriend but have decided at this point in our relationship to abstain from sex.
It may not be ‘cool,’ but it is a lot safer.
Kagiso: As guys we have many girlfriends simply because we want to boast to our peers about our scores.
At weekends you can find girls in bars in search of men who will buy them drinks – often in exchange for sex.
The person is usually a total stranger, but he pays the money and the girl takes her chances.
It is the same with guys who are struggling to manage on a student budget – we are also looking for a ‘sugar mummy’ to sweeten life.
Faith: A lot depends on your family background.
Young people from poverty-stricken homes find themselves having multiple partners, being picked up and dropped off by a different car each time.
Parents often overlook such behaviour as long as there is money in the deal, and some might actively encourage such a relationship.
There is also the need to keep up and fit in with the lifestyle of a particular group of friends, so people go to all lengths to have the same type of cell phones, clothing labels and cell-phones.
How big a part does alcohol play in blurring the vision of an AIDS free generation?
Faith: It’s a fact that use of alcohol has become a way of life amongst the youth. I used to drink but I stopped when I realized whenever I drank I was never myself and that it wasted a lot of money.
Alcohol arouses one’s hormones at the same time as reducing inhibitions. It’s a heady concoction of strong desire and weak flesh and with it the AIDS message goes out the bedroom window.
Acirfa: I do drink and some may call my consumption ‘heavy,’ but I when I go out to drink my sole purpose is to chill, braai and dance the night away.
Being part of the drama club has helped me understand the consequences of casual relationships and give sex the respect it deserves.
I move around with a team who share the same ideals as me, so I think choice of friends has a lot to do with influencing the way one behaves.
Tshidiso: I used to drink too but realized alcohol does pull one into wayward behaviour.
Under its influence you will hear a voice telling you to enjoy the good times while they last. Sex then just becomes an extension of this attitude.
Lesedi: I can’t go to the bar and pick up a man and sleep with him because he has bought me a couple of drinks.
Others will think differently, but I do feel as youth we need to advise each other more when we see one of us going down the wrong road.
Gaogalelewe: A lot depends on what you want out of life and what you are prepared to do to get it.
As far as I am concerned I’m not interested in dating a person who expects more from me than I am prepared to give.
Senwelo: I think it takes a certain maturity to drink sensibly. Some of us are just too young and can’t handle the consequences of being drunk. So it is better we stop and leave alcohol to those who are of an age who can handle the effects.
The HIV message is as much about practicing safe sex, as it is about suggesting no sex. So how safe are you?
Senwelo: If you go out with an older man he is usually the one who has control over the relationship, including the decision to use a condom or not.
Mogomotsi: In relationships with age mates the condom question often depends on who went for the other, but people are learning that it is not unromantic to discuss the safe sex issue before things get too advanced.
Acirfa: In our era ladies are the ones who are in control in the bedroom.
They are usually the ones who produce the condoms –but if the girl says no to a condom, the boy seldom disagrees.
Lesedi: The best advice is for both parties to keep condoms. Whenever you go and visit your partner carry a couple of condoms with you so that he or she cannot give an excuse of having run out.
Senwelo: Both parties need to take responsibility.
Sex should not be a matter of one person controlling the other, but a mutual fulfilment of the joy it brings to a loving relationship.
The condom decision must be one for both parties to decide on – there are issues of trust and respect involved.
Finally is the vision of an Aids free generation by 2012 an impossible dream?
Tshidiso: We need to value relationships more and not trivialise sex.
As young girls we can decide to only have sex after marriage, and this will contribute towards breaking the chain.
But that remains a personal decision and is still not a popular choice amongst my age mates.
Lesedi: Abstaining from sex, or sticking to one partner is the often-repeated slogan of our times, but it is not the one we are living by. Without the will to change there is no-way we will have an AIDS free generation this century.
Acira: For me waiting until marriage is out.
For a lot of people even marriage is out, so the best thing is not to rush into having sex.
Get to know each other, get tested and get responsiblebefore taking that route.
Mogomotsi: It’s not easy to abstain from sex once you have started, but the least one can do is have safe sex all the time.
An AIDS free generation does not mean a sex free generation.
Kagiso: I have found that young people lack information about HIV/AIDS, but family values also have a big part to play in providing the moral education on which to base decisions.
The process starts as young as standard seven when kids are sexually active.