Monday, November 21, 2011

Young Bahamians and, HIV and AIDS education in The Bahamas



Nassau, The Bahamas

THE Bahamas Red Cross has found that young Bahamians are not interested in assisting with HIV and AIDS education, one of its representatives said yesterday.

Amanda Lewis, Red Cross Project Coordinator, was a presenter at the 2011 Caribbean HIV Conference, where she spoke on the difficulties in raising HIV-AIDS awareness among young people.

She explained how factors such as low interest from young people in HIV-AIDS education and a "lack of association" between HIV-AIDS work and the Bahamas Red Cross hindered the Red Cross' efforts in organising education programmes.

At the conference, Ms Lewis unveiled a new project, The Caribbean HIV-AIDS Project (CHAP), where young people can become peer educators, and teach their peers about safe sex, HIV, and AIDS.
Ms Lewis said that recruiting young people to be Peer Educators was the "main challenge" of CHAP.

"It's very difficult to get young people involved in something that they might not see the value in, right away," she said.

Despite this, according to the Bahamas Red Cross, CHAP was able to educate more than 5,000 young Bahamians on HIV prevention, this year alone.

"It's a two-year programme sponsored by the American Red Cross and being implemented by the Bahamas Red Cross," Ms Lewis said.

"I train peer educators with knowledge about HIV prevention and safer sex, and they in turn go into their communities and educate their friends, family members, and peers."

She continued: "The research shows that young people are more receptive to hearing information from somebody in their age group. It's seen more as sharing information rather than being lectured to."

Ms Lewis said she "had to do a lot of work" to recruit young Bahamians to participate in the project, stating that she found "low levels of interest" from youth in becoming peer educators and "feelings of fatigue" from youth in becoming involved in an organisation, in general.

Ms Lewis also described how many Bahamians did not realize the role the Bahamas Red Cross played in HIV-AIDS education.

"Community members did not associate the Bahamas Red Cross Society with HIV-AIDS work so it was very difficult for us to establish ourselves and get the programme started," Ms Lewis said. "This lack of association had a big impact on the difficulties we faced when we were recruiting."

However, the Bahamas Red Cross was able to recruit 42 young Bahamians to become peer educators, with 36 remaining active in their communities.

"We've had great success. One of our targets for the project was that there would be 4,000 young people reached by our peer educators in their communities by the end of the second year, and by the end of the first year, we've met just under 6,000," Ms Lewis said.

Colin Scavella Jr, the Lead Male of CHAP's peer educators said he got involved with CHAP because he "found that there was a need in the different communities throughout Nassau" for HIV-AIDS education.

"In the beginning, the response was kind of reluctant, but once you start, people start talking to people. I speak to a group today, and tomorrow they bring their friends. By the time you realize it, in the space of a week's time you've already spoken to 30 or 40 people," Mr Scavella said.

"It's like a domino effect - you speak to one or two people, and it trickles down from there."

November 21, 2011