Students take the lead in HIV/AIDS education

21 July 2003
UCT students are learning more about HIV and this knowledge is inspiring some to go for HIV testing. This is just one of the results to surface from recent SHARP training - a key project of UCT's HIV/AIDS Unit.

From May 9-11, 28 UCT students gathered to be trained as SHARPies, or peer educators. Now in its tenth year, the Students' HIV/AIDS Resistance Programme (SHARP) trains approximately 70 students each year to become peer educators.

As peer educators, students are given a series of tools that prepare them to present workshops to their peers on HIV/AIDS. This includes information about preventing the transmission of HIV as well as other sexually transmitted infections.

SHARPies are not only equipped to educate their fellow UCT students, but also young people at various schools in the Western Cape and communities around the Cape Metropole, through an outreach programme. According to Wayne Alexander, SHARP's peer programme manager, young people respond well to receiving AIDS education from other young people.

"Our peer educators provide workshop participants with skills to negotiate safer sex practices," he explained. "Our next training programme is scheduled to take place from September 5-7, and we would like to encourage students to attend as it provides them with essential life skills."

While the new HIV/AIDS Intervention Programme caters for certain staff members, the HIV/AIDS Unit continues to create a supportive and caring environment for all students and staff who are infected with or affected by the disease.

The Unit is responsible for implementing many aspects of UCT's policy on HIV/AIDS, particularly through education, training and awareness programmes and received a Best Practice Award from the South African national health department.

In an effort to involve students in a creative response to HIV/AIDS and to combat AIDS fatigue, the Unit organises a number of participatory events on Campus.

One such event was the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial Day. Staff and students gathered on May 21 to commemorate the oldest international AIDS event with 1 500 communities around the world.

Focusing on the theme Remember the Cause–Renewing the Commitment, participants painted panels in remembrance of those who had died from AIDS-related illnesses and to honour those living with and affected by the disease. The panels were sewn together to create one large quilt to serve as a reminder of UCT's commitment to its larger strategy, aimed at preventing further infections in the University community.

With men at UCT representing a critical force in curbing the transmission of HIV, the Unit is launching its Men Make a Difference campaign this term. The campaign will raise awareness of the role men play in reducing HIV transmission, drawing specific attention to the ways in which men can empower themselves and their partners against HIV.

Men's vulnerability is impacted by certain perceptions of masculinity that often translate into risky sexual behaviour.

However, according to Gilmore Kordom, a SHARP student leader, men are working to change these perceptions.

"Some of us are beginning to get the message that we can change our sexual behaviour to protect ourselves and our partners, and it does not make you any less of a man," he said. "In fact, you feel more empowered because you know you are being safe."

The campaign will include provocative posters that reflect "alternative and positive constructions of being a man". It will include a live art event on August 21.

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