World AIDS Day 2013: Engage young people in the struggle against AIDS

A message from Fr Michael Lewis SJ, President of JESAM (Jesuit Superiors of Africa and Madagascar)

Young people need to feel part of the struggle against AIDS and to be empowered with the confidence, values, skills and knowledge to make a valuable contribution.

As the international community marks World AIDS Day on 1 December, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has drawn attention to the vulnerability of adolescents to HIV infection.In 2012, there were 2.1 million adolescents living with HIV worldwide.

The African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN) strongly believes that value-based education is a pivotal element in controlling HIV among this vulnerable age group. AJAN coordinates the AIDS programmes run by Jesuits and their co-workers across sub-Saharan Africa, including many implemented in schools and educational centres run by the Jesuit order, which has a renowned pedagogical tradition.

With their rich experience in education, the Jesuits are ideally placed to organise HIV prevention programmes for youth. However, we have realised that prevention campaigns alone are not enough, and sometimes actually put young people off, because they feel they are hearing the same old thing again and again. We have learned that we constantly need to be creative and to reach out in a youth-friendly way.

The successful programmes are those that encourage young people to think critically and equip them with the 'tools' to act: to make responsible choices, to respond with compassion to the needs around them, and to make a real difference.

In 2012, AJAN launched an innovative programme for Jesuit schools and educational centres called the AJAN HIV&AIDS Prevention Programme for Youth (AHAPPY). Adapting principles of Jesuit pedagogy and spirituality for teenagers, the AHAPPY programme tackles HIV prevention in the context of integral personal development. Young people are guided to view themselves in relation to self, others, God and creation. The means used include life-skills, peer education, creative activities like drama, and Catholic Church teaching.

Critically, the programme has been designed in the belief that young people are active agents in their own formation. This is perhaps the most valuable lesson we have learned in years of doing HIV prevention among youth. We need to harness the enthusiasm and potential of young people to make a real difference. Their gifts can truly enhance education campaigns to make inroads in the steep HIV prevalence rates that threaten them. The only way to address HIV/AIDS is comprehensively, by making prevention part of a wider search for personal wholeness.

To read this message in French, please go here.

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About AJAN

Jesuits across sub-Saharan Africa reach out daily to people affected by AIDS and seek to prevent the spread of HIV. The African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN) coordinates their efforts, inspired by the vision: Empowered individuals, families, and communities working towards an HIV and AIDS free society and fullness of life (cfr John 10:10)