I have volunteered to put

by francine Hardaway on February 21, 2005

I have volunteered to put two sons of a woman with AIDS through computer training here in Uganda. This morning we visited a slum parish (you have no idea what that means here) that cares for people with AIDS. We saw a skit that they put together to educate other people about getting tested and getting treatment. The cast, themselves people with AIDS, was empowered and energized by being to go out and tell people how to prevent the spread of the disease.

The skit was about a sick father whose wife did not know how to care for him and didn’t have any money. Their two children couldn’t go to school, because they didn’t have food or shoes. A visitor, a friend of the father, comes over to the house and offers them some money. Then an AIDS worker comes and takes the man to the hospital. Once the man and his wife have left, the visitor-with-money takes advantage of one of the daughters. When the husband and wife return home, the daughters are gone, but they return shortly, proud to have earned money by being sex workers. It is left to the AIDS worker to explain to the family that Aids will be spread by the daughter who had sex for money.

The HIV-AIDS problems here in Uganda are monumental. A child sang a song about being the younger generation and praying for all her parents, teachers, and ministers who were dying of AIDS. It was a very upbeat song about how the younger generation is the generation of hope because it won’t repeat the mistakes of its elders.

And then I got a chance to speak to a 38-year-old mother of four who was clearly going to die soon. Her sons, 21 and 19, had qualified for university, but she couldn’t afford to send them. And they had no trade, so they couldn’t get jobs. I promised to put them both through computer school if they would promise to go to work and support her afterwards. I hope this will work.

In the afternoon, we visited a program that re-trains young people who have been commercial sex workers. We went to its outreach facility, in a slum, and saw a beautiful group of young women (and some men) who were attending classes. The program’s policy is not to discourage the women — many of whom are orphans or runaways — from their livelihood, but to offer them other skills training. After they train, get a job, and get money for doing else, they withdraw themselves from commercial sex.

Here we were entertained by a group of extraordinarily talented drummers and dancers who performed traditional African dances for us. And then, I decided I wanted to learn. They costumed me, and began to teach me. I love to dance, but after five minutes of rapid foot and pelvic movements in the afternoon sun in Equatorial Africa, I had to hand it to those kids. I kept going (competitive me), but I bet my quads and glutes will be sore tomorrow!

The takeaway from today is that these NGOs have some excellent programs for dealing with major issues of poverty, AIDS,and adolescence. They are called “Youth Friendly Programs,” — developed by young people for young people. The ones we saw today were sponsored by the African Youth Alliance, a program of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Another opinion I’ve formed after today: Bill Gates knows how to spend his money…

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