Vidah Bossa: HIV education through peer-to-peer programme
Vidah Bossa, 27 year old Ugandan, set up a youth outreach programme in 2004 that is designed and lead by young people. The programmes now has 60 ambassadors, 30% of whom are living with HIV, sharing their knowledge on STDs, healthy living and essential life skills to over 500 young people across Uganda. Parents and leaders are involved in the initial stages of setting up a youth programme, “Involving our elders helps each party share, understand and accept each other’s views regarding the programm” Vidah explains.
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Organisation: YWCA of Uganda
Campaigns for: Youth peer education and leadership on HIV
My name is Vidah Bossa, a 27-year-old woman from Uganda holding a Bachelor of Science in Commerce from Makerere University of Uganda.
I joined the YWCA at the age of 15 as a youth volunteer and served as a member of the youth committee. When the Youth Coordinator resigned, she encouraged me to apply for the position. She had so much trust and confidence in me that although I was not very interested in the position, I applied anyway. A few weeks later she died, and I decided to follow in her footsteps, as she had desired.
As I started my work as youth coordinator, a national survey carried out at voluntary counselling and testing centres (VCTs) and schools revealed that young people are not open to discussing issues affecting their lives with available educators because they do not identify with them. Inspired by this research and realising that young people do not have a voice, I started a peer education outreach project in January 2004.
The aim of the project was to give a voice to young people by creating a platform in an organised structure through which they could express themselves. The project targets young women and men in seven of the districts where YWCA operates.
Each district has a coordinator and sixty youth ambassadors; of which twenty are HIV positive. The peer approach is conducted through training of youth leaders in districts on prevention, care and support, HIV and AIDS, life planning, reproductive health and income generating activities.
Youth leaders are encouraged to go for voluntary counselling and testing so that they know their HIV status and lead responsible lives. Through seminars and workshops the leaders pass on the knowledge to their peers. This approach helps young people share their concerns, ideas and thoughts freely and openly express their views about health and social and economic lifestyles. The peer approach has reached approximately 500 young people in each district in the past year. The target age groups for training are seven to 15 and 16 to 30.
In the workshops, ambassadors emphasise the use of medicinal herbs and better nutrition in the treatment of various diseases. In the rural areas, this knowledge has proved cost effective for people living with HIV or AIDS who cannot afford medicines. The workshops usually involve group discussions and home visits. The ambassadors also refer the sick to various hospitals and clinics that provide treatment.
Participants receive instruction on the prevention of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STI) through the ‘abstain, be faithful, use condoms’ (ABC) model. They are then taught how to give care and support to those infected and affected by HIV and AIDS.
The youth do not receive the abstinence lectures very well. It is also difficult for us to measure the impact of this message, which is faith based, when most of our target groups are not practising Christians. The participants prefer the ‘use condoms’ option. Poverty is also pushing young people to engage in sexual activities early. Young people who are not in school are particularly vulnerable. We are able to reach young mothers, but find it hard to work with their partners. We face different challenges in reaching young men versus young women.
The training manuals developed by some funding body are sometimes difficult to use, as they do not include active roles for people living with HIV for all of the activities needed. We plan on updating some of the manuals with input from ambassadors and district coordinators, as they are practically involved in training and have valuable insights. We are also in the process of fundraising with other donors and hope to be able to include more diverse activities in the project to meet the needs of young people.
I visit the districts on a quarterly basis to evaluate their progress and listen to their concerns. This has enabled me to identify the most pressing issues and try to work out solutions for them.
Parents, community and religious leaders are also involved in the initial stage, of sensitisation, building partnerships and networking. Involving our elders helps each party share, understand and accept each other’s views regarding young people’s outreach programmes.
Toolbox: Speak Out
- Being strategic will assist you to get your point across and have an impact. You need to be heard in a significant way and reach as large an audience as possible, mobilizing your community with a specific message that will encourage people to continue to advocate for a particular cause.