The War Against AIDS Escalates!
The United African Alliance Community Center in collaboration with the Kuji Foundation and several youth activists’ organizations based in Arusha and Moshi recently celebrated the successful conclusion of Phase III of the Staying Healthy…Staying Alive HIV/AIDS Education Festival. The groups included UAACC’s KushKemet Actors Group; African Traditional Dance Group; Aang Serian; White Orange Youth Organization (based in Moshi); Maasai Arts Group; African Youth Health Promotion Group; Rafiki Arts Group (based in Moshi); Global Services Corps; and the ChemChem Kidedeo group (based in Dar es Salaam). The festival venue was at Technical College Arusha on April 19, 2003. The following are remembrances of the festival by ARUSHA TIMES correspondent and UAACC Program Director, Charlotte Hill O’Neal.
It was 8:30am; we were riding in our UAACC van with Brother Ali Mhina, MC for the festival, who was on the loudspeakers microphone. We had just passed by the Meru Posta, the starting point for the march. The excitement was palpable and filled the air with electricity that I could actually see…at least I thought that was the element that was causing the clouds to dissipate and the drizzling rain to slow to a drip-drop. After all, the HIV/AIDS awareness walk was about to begin, and even though I know we need rain worse than ever, I secretly thought that it would be nice if the rain gods held off until the huge crowd of youth marching in Ngarenaro, actually arrived at the Technical College Arusha for the festival to begin at noon.
I had stayed at the activities hall at TCA to help my husband, Pete O’Neal, Managing Director of UAACC, and representatives from the participating organizations, hang the banners, place the chairs and get the high table and equipment area in order. Another van was bringing food and juice for all the participating groups (some of it kindly donated by Rushda’s supermarket). Things were going smoothly…we were highly organized!
We’d had at least two pre-festivals already in Imbaseni Village and numerous planning meetings and several sleepless nights in anticipation of the day. We had it all together!
As I heard the drums of the African Traditional Dance Group leading the crowd to the gates of TCA I walked out of the hall and saw what looked like a sea of bobbing heads, colorful banners and posters held aloft with messages like: Ishi kwa Afya…Uwe na Uhai; Fight the War on HIV/AIDS and other relevant phrases. I could hardly contain my feverous excitement when all those young people started streaming through…the vibe simply overtook me…I just had to do my ol’ lady, two-step shuffle too!
With a bit of astonishment, I saw the numbers of youth growing by the minute and I thought of Mafanikio Prosper Shayo, (music producer, writer, rapper and music committee co-chairman of Aang Serian) and I sweating in that claustrophobically cramped, but jammin’ Kijenge studio, working for a couple of days on the jingle advertisement for the event that had been playing the whole week on both CLOUDS FM and SUNRISE FM (asante’s and big ups to both stations) and I KNEW that it had all been worth it! The word had gone out too through donated advertisement in ARUSHA TIMES, posters sent out by email and of course, through word of mouth. At the height of the festival there were an estimated six hundred young people in the audience both inside the hall and ringing the perimeter outdoors.
Young folks from Moshi (Rafiki Arts Group and White Orange Youth Organization) had been bussed to Arusha with their teachers and group leaders and even the famous ChemChem Kidedeo actors had taken time off from their television sitcom and traveled up to A’ Town from Dar es Salaam!
Representatives from the Kush Kemet Actors Group based at UAACC; the Maasai Arts Group; the African Youth Health Promotion Group and Aang Serian had sent representatives all the way out to UAACC for each and every planning meeting, as had the youth from Moshi. The commitment of these young activists should be emulated everywhere. We were all volunteers! It was about our community pulling together to get the word out and make it happen…BIG! And it happened…it WORKED!
A communal message was hammered home throughout the six- hour long festival, through comedy and drama; rap and song; the East African premier of JUNGU KUU, an HIV/AIDS film edited by Joju Cleaver ji Jaga of the Kuji Foundation featuring the KushKemet Actors and the African Traditional Dance Group actors; and even during the heartbreaking testimony from a woman from Moshi who has been an HIV/AIDS victim for nearly 12 years. The delivery varied but the message was the same (i.e. if we are to live as a community; if we are to prosper and grow, we have GOT to change our lifestyle!)
As Mzee Pete O’Neal said emphatically, "You youth are all revolutionaries...committed soldiers, out to make a difference in our community...spreading powerful knowledge about HIV/AIDS prevention...we are all committed warriors in this war against AIDS!"
There were many peer educators in the group who had already done their homework and research. As they continue looking for positive solutions, the astonishing achievements of Uganda in actually achieving a steady drop in HIV prevalence among the youth, has bought about hope.
Although we know that HIV knowledge, risk perception and risk avoidance options can ultimately lead to reduced HIV incidence, there is more to it than this. There is a complex set of socio-cultural, political and other elements that have affected the course of the epidemic in Uganda…and that element is a widespread change in behavior among young people!
The youth organizers agreed that the way forward, toward an eventual eradication of HIV/AIDS is by practicing Abstinence; Faithful Monogamy (with one tested partner); and the use of condoms only as a (not very effective) last resort.
This is what is saving Uganda! This is what can save our country and other countries in Africa and indeed the world! This change in attitude rests with young people if we are to have a future in Tanzania! This change in attitude rests with young people if we are to have a future on this planet!
But it is also up to we elders in our community to get over our shyness and reluctance to talk about HIV/AIDS prevention measures and healthy alternatives. Honorable Paul Lotta Laizer, the Mayor of Arusha, who served as Guest of Honor at the Festival called for the youth to look to the morals and lifestyles of long ago, way before the advent of that then unheard disease called UKIMWI.
We should constantly be reminding our youth (and setting positive examples ourselves!) that "a positive change in lifestyle can save your lives. It’s as simple as that! It’s a matter of making up your mind to change your life style."
We must look together at what has worked in Uganda and has turned the tide around. We must look to what has been tried and true and emulate and build upon those ideas.
May 01, 2003.