Breaking the Silence
By Judith Santiago*
November 25, 2009—In Sri Lanka and parts of south Asia, issues of sexuality and HIV are considered taboo and are not to be discussed in public. As a result, the general population has minimal knowledge about HIV/AIDS, and very few avenues to access accurate information.
The United Methodist Global AIDS Fund is breaking the silence in Sri Lanka through HIV/AIDS education and training. Through funding support to Church World Service, ten HIV/AIDS training workshops for teachers at St. Sebastian College in Moratuwa, Sri Lanka are learning how to educate at-risk communities about the HIV virus and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Nearly 1,000 students, including youth from Moratuwa and Point Pedro schools in Sri Lanka are participating in HIV awareness workshops, and equipping themselves with life saving information, while sharing information with others.
“The presentation was very good, and it was good to know that young people, especially school students are being educated on HIV/AIDS and STDs,” said one 12 year-old participant in a report to UMCOR.
The young boy expressed how television, movies and parties place a tremendous amount of peer pressure on the youth to indulge in unsafe behavior. The workshops are eye openers for many students, who use the information to rethink or confront their own behaviors and help them make better choices for their future.
Getting the Word Out
With support from the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund, Church World Service and its partner Young Men’s Christian Association, HIV/AIDS trainings were implemented for more than 50 teachers throughout Kalmunai, Trincomalee, Negombo, Kandy and Ampara regions. Students participating in AIDS awareness workshops worked together to spread the word about HIV/AIDS.
The students developed five HIV-related drama performances geared toward younger audiences, and took part in creating and designing HIV/AIDS posters for friendly competition. The students will exhibit their new artwork in observance of the upcoming World AIDS Day, December 1. Stickers, badges and other materials with HIV/AIDS information were disseminated throughout several Sri Lankan communities to increase awareness about the disease.
Renewing the Mind
One of the challenges in creating awareness about HIV/AIDS is confronting the negative perception concerning HIV/AIDS in Sri Lanka.
Most schools or institutions in Sri Lanka refrain from having discussions about HIV/AIDS. Many in Sri Lanka consider discussions about sex education or HIV/AIDS as simply wrong and are concerned that educating youth on such topics will cause more curiosity and influence them to indulge in risky behavior. In response to this point-of-view, the sessions are intentionally sensitive, presenting information about HIV/AIDS from a new prospective, while teaching students about the potential life-threatening consequences of making risky choices.
Despite the challenges of working in a country with political conflict and opening dialogue about HIV/AIDS, The response to the HIV awareness project was overwhelming positive and greatly appreciated. The students were focused and engaged, taking notes and asking questions. Future sessions for younger children will be considered so they will be better able to protect themselves from the virus.
With help from the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund and Church World Service partners, teachers and students throughout Sri Lanka have broken through the silence barrier which has kept many Sri Lankans ignorant of the risks of this deadly disease.
How You Can Help
Observe World AIDS Day on Dec. 1 and help to provide educational workshops like these that are saving the lives of youth and adults in developing countries. You can support this work with your gifts to the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund, UMCOR Advance #982345.
For additional information about HIV/AIDS, or for downloadable resources to help educate your congregation, please visit UMCOR’s World AIDS Day 2009 page, or visit the United Methodist Global AIS Fund at www.umglobalaidsfund.org.
*Santiago is the Program Coordinator for UMCOR Communications