Monday, March 18, 2013

Peace Corps Skillz!

After Graduation!
Towards the end of last year, the volunteers of Peace Corps Namibia received an e-mail about a program that had been developed for PCVs to use in their communities regarding HIV Education. It had been developed in conjunction with a nonprofit organization called Grassroots Soccer by Volunteers in South Africa, where they had just finished piloting the program. The basics of the program looked similar in structure, but WAY more fun, inclusive of boys, and focused in information retention, than a program I had helped facilitate that the Ministry of Education offers in schools here [Window of Hope], so I immediately said I was interested. When I got home from America in early January a box was waiting for me with our coaches manuals and, most intriguing to the kids, a neon yellow indestructible soccer ball!

The program consists of 12 one-hour [or more like 2 our case, when dealing with lots of naughty behavior] sessions in which participants learn the key facts about HIV and how to prevent yourself from getting infected. The best part about it is that it uses soccer comparisons, drills, and various other fun activities to relay all the information. I just finished my first six-week session with the first of the four Grade 7 classes, and it was awesome! The program really reinforces about 5 key messages throughout the program. I almost thought it was too repetitive when I first read through the manual, but in the end that’s what the kids needed for the information to stick, and we found out that it really did stay with them by the time the program ended. These messages were:
  • ·      The most common way HIV is spread in Africa is through unprotected sex
  •      There are many risks in life that can lead to HIV including: unprotected sex, multiple sexual  partners, older partners, and mixing sex and alcohol
  •      Build your team in life with strong supporters to help you abstain from sex or to practice safe sexual behaviors/stay strong in life
  •      Not having sex is the safest way to avoid HIV
  •      If you do choose to have sex, you can protect yourself by using condoms and having 1 mutually faithful partner that is HIV-negative

 The boys listen to the girls' views on gender roles in the "Gender Stadium"
In order to convey these messages, we did a bunch of games with the soccer ball, and made a lot of references to soccer terms. For example, when talking about a sexual network, the kids went to three different famous stadiums [which they chose the names of]. At each stadium each person had to ‘meet’ someone different. Then we chose three random kids and said they had HIV, and anyone who met them [which represented having unprotected sex] now had HIV as well, and had to come link their arms. Then anyone who met those people who met the three with HIV had to come and link up. So of course, everyone was linked by the end and had HIV. In the program we also talked about the difference between gender and sex, and the roles expected of males and females in the community.

During one of the sessions we learned about ARVs and how they help the body when it is infected with HIV. I took a video of this game because the kids got really into it and definitely understood how HIV affects the body by the end of it. In it, the person in the center is the body. The girl around him is the immune system, and the boy holding her hands behind her back is HIV. The rest of the people around those three are germs/diseases/illnesses that are trying to get into the body, represented by the ball getting thrown at the human. The immune system is trying to protect the body, but can’t because it’s occupied by HIV! See how the kids cheer when they bypass the immune system and infect the human! Eventually we added another learner, representing ARVs, who held the arms of the HIV, putting him to sleep, allowing the immune system to get back to doing its job.

Everyone was psyched about their certificates!
I loved this program because, as with all my secondary projects, it allowed me to get to know a different side of my learners – especially these kids who I don’t have to teach anymore. It’s so refreshing to get to interact with them when they are no longer trying to destroy my sanity in the classroom setting. In particular, this program had half boys and half girls by the end, which is incredible since getting boys to do lifeskills programs like this is very rare.  Over the course of the 12 sessions, three normally shy boys opened up and starting actively participating in discussions. For them alone I know that the time spent on this was worth it. I can’t wait to do this again with the next class. I’m doubling up on the sessions each meeting time now so that we can get through another rotation before the term ends. Otherwise we won’t be able to get through the 4 classes of Grade 7 by the time I leave [crazy that I can see the end from here already!], and the kids are all SO excited/anxious to be the next class to have SKILLZ. These Grade 7s are going to be stopping HIV in its tracks over here!!!

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