Tackling HIV/AIDS through children’s clubs

Children together

Photo credit: Patrice Drummond

1st December marked World AIDS Day and in 2016, HIV prevention remains a key issue on the global development agenda. Combatting the spread of HIV and providing essential treatment for those affected by the terrible virus is one of the key UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to UNAIDS, last year 1.8 million children worldwide were living with HIV and 150,000 were newly infected.

Child to Child works with a variety of organisations worldwide in relation to education, health and public policy, and our child-centred approach to development has played a key part in addressing the challenges faced by communities affected by HIV/AIDS. In East Africa Ace Africa is the largest implementer of the Child to Child methodology and a key organisation working to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. In particular, the creation of Ace Child to Child clubs has been an innovative way of enabling young people to support each other in coping with challenges.

Action in the community

Ace Africa works to empower children and communities impacted by HIV/AIDS in Kenya and Tanzania. Back in 2003 when they started their long-term community development programme in Bungoma (Kenya), the HIV and AIDs pandemic was having a devastating effect on families. Many parents/guardians had been killed by the HIV infection, leaving behind orphans and vulnerable children. ACE Africa intervened to support these children through their ‘Community Health and Wellbeing Plan’ which has been instrumental in improving access to quality health care services through various means including: health and hygiene education; awareness raising on HIV prevention; counselling; HIV testing; addressing stigma around HIV/AIDS; providing direct aid such as mosquito nets, sanitary pads and condoms; and training community health workers. In addition, by incorporating the Child to Child approach within their Child Development, Community Health and Wellbeing and Community Livelihoods programmes, they ensure communities have the training and skills to move out of poverty, and become more self-reliant, independent and healthy in the long-term.

Children leading the way in HIV prevention

Children's education

Photo credit: Patrice Drummond

The Child to Child approach has been a crucial part of Ace Africa’s school-based health education programme. This programme is designed to respond to the effects of HIV and AIDS on children and to enhance their psychosocial wellbeing through providing physical attachment, love and security.

Ace Child to Child (CtC) Clubs are held in primary schools and engage children aged 7 – 15. They offer children the opportunity to learn essential life skills in a safe environment where they can openly discuss and reflect on the everyday issues they face living in rural Africa. Teachers and head teachers are trained in the Child to Child approach and given HIV/AIDS education. They in turn facilitate the Child to Child clubs which support the children to learn valuable life skills. A range of HIV/AIDS-related themes are addressed: HIV/AIDS prevention, transmission, stigma, discrimination and treatment but children are also supported to develop leadership skills. The Ace Clubs also provide the opportunity for children to address challenges faced by children who affected / infected by HIV/AIDS. Children act as “brothers and sisters keepers” visiting the homes of those affected by the virus to offer support. They also participate in advocacy events such as World AIDS Day and World Orphans Day. Through this innovative child-centred approach, Ace Africa’s Child to Child clubs have dramatically improved the lives of children and their communities for the better as children realise their rights and become HIV/AIDS aware.

“The clubs help us to explain to other children not to get pregnant. It encourages them to go to school and to get an education. I want all children to have the same opportunities that I now have.” (Juliet, aged 12 – Olmringiringa, Tanzania)

Community drama Child Rights Drama Groups have also given a voice and stage to those who are vulnerable and marginalised, inspiring discussions on taboo subjects such as sexual and reproductive rights. Students are trained and empowered to create their own impactful drama presentations tackling challenging issues such as child abuse, FGM and child labour, fostering problem solving, self-reflection and, importantly, encouraging a shift in attitudes and behaviour. Alongside trained teachers, child peer counsellors also provide essential emotional support and advice to the most vulnerable children living with HIV/AIDS.

Girls’ engagement

Young girl in Tanzania

Photo credit: Patrice Drummond

Addressing gender equity is a key SDG and focus of Child to Child’s work. Child to Child methodology is a crucial means of engaging girls and young women to address core issues such as FGM and other forms of sexual violence which play a crucial part in HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. Through their part in the DREAMS partnership (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-Free, Mentored and Safe), Ace Africa aims to reduce new HIV infections amongst adolescent girls across 10 sub-Saharan countries. Child to Child approaches are being used, in conjunction with DREAMS support groups, to educate girls from rural, underprivileged backgrounds about how to keep safe and what to do if they’ve been affected by rape, HIV/AIDS and/or FGM.

Through its work, ACE has seen that children are powerful agents of change within their communities. When children work together they can change their world!