The classroom of lifeLiving with AIDS #241

Fx’€¦ (Classroom sounds)

KHOPOTSO: It’€™s after 2 p.m. and school is out. Some have gone home already and others have stayed behind for a different kind of lesson at Winnie Ngwekazi Primary School. In this class, learners are not taught maths or language skills. They are being taught skill-work, such as sewing and art. But, underlying these extra curricular activities is the need to open up the youngsters’€™ eyes to the challenges of life, and to prevent them from early, unprotected sex, which might possibly result in HIV infection.          

Fx’€¦ (Sound outside the classroom)

KHOPOTSO: Outside the classroom, one of the 30-plus learners, Xoliswa Mpotulo, who dreams of becoming a Chartered Accountant because she loves money, tells me what role the after-school programme plays in her own life.

XOLISWA MPOTULO: I’€™m a very fly person. Maybe by now I’€™d be smoking, drinking, I might be pregnant. But when I’€™m here I know that my time is occupied’€¦ It teaches you how to relate to situations, whereby if they give you a cigarette to puff, you’€™re like ‘€˜No, this is not good for me’€™’€¦ Whilst, I’€™m in here I’€™m learning a whole lot than I would be doing outside the streets.      

KHOPOTSO: Speaking in a mix of her home language, isiZulu and a smattering of English, co-ordinator of the programme, Petunia Mkhize explains that children who have been participating in this programme over the last four years have been specially

hand-picked. The programme is part of a greater HIV/AIDS service run by an international NGO, Francois-Xavier Bagnoud.

PETUNIA MKHIZE: Basically, sisebenza ngabantwana aba-vulnerable and orphaned. What we normally do, we go to the principals sibatshele i-criteria esiyiyuzayo to identify the vulnerable and the orphans. So, yes, ama-principal have the background ye-youth esisebenza ngayo. Then, basitshuzel’€™ abantwana basinikeze bona. Then, nathi, we run i-background check. We go kuma-houses wabo sizi-introjuse, sikhulume nabo, ukuthi nabo bangaxakeki ukuthi ‘€˜hhawu abantwana bethu after-school, manje sebaphelela lapha, kwenzakalani?… Abantwana esisebenza ngabo are from the ages of 12 ‘€“ 18 years’€¦ Some of the kids their parents are HIV-positive.            

TRANSLATION: We work with orphaned and vulnerable children. We normally approach the school principals and tell them the criteria we use to identify the children we work with. Because the principals have their background they will then choose the children they think will benefit from the programme. We also do our own back-ground checks, ourselves. We also visit their homes to tell their families about the programme. The children we work with are from the ages of 12 ‘€“ 18. Some of them their parents are HIV-positive.

KHOPOTSO: The older participants in the programme used to be learners at Winnie Ngwekazi, but are now in high school at neighbouring townships.

PETER NXUMALO: My name is Peter Nxumalo. I started this programme in 2002. I am an orphan ‘€“ not really because I don’€™t have both parents. But, then, I only have one – a mother. This year I turned 15. I’€™m doing Grade 10 at PG Secondary School, in Rockville’€¦ HIV is not only affecting us as South Africans. Many countries are being affected. Here, the youth are the most people who are being infected and affected by HIV and AIDS.

KHOPOTSO: Most of the learners have lost a parent or both, but not necessarily due to AIDS. Others are from broken families. Fourteen-year old Nokwazi Sibeko doesn’€™t believe 100% in marriage anymore since her parents are divorced. To subdued giggles from her peers she admits that she doesn’€™t particularly think that it’€™s fun to be a teenager.  

NOKWAZI SIBEKO: It’€™s challenging. Boys ask you out and you don’€™t like them. (You get) pimples. Ahh, I just wish I was young again because it was quite cool.

KHOPOTSO: Speaking of boys asking you out, is there one boy that you’€™re seeing?

NOKWAZI SIBEKO: No. Oh, my dad would kill me, no!

KHOPOTSO: Here are her thoughts on the after-school programme she’€™s attending.

NOKWAZI SIBEKO: It keeps me busy most of the time. That’€™s why I like it. It’€™s done a lot for me. I’€™ve learnt. I’€™ve travelled. (I’€™ve) met new people’€¦ I don’€™t know anybody who’€™s infected, but I am affected because in South Africa, people are ignorant ‘€“ most of them. They don’€™t want to learn. They think that AIDS is a person that they can step away from. They’€™re in denial’€¦

KHOPOTSO: Now, you, yourself have not seen anybody that has HIV or somebody who has AIDS, but, then, you believe that AIDS does exist and it is a problem and it’€™s decimating our population. Why is that? What is your belief based on?

NOKWAZI SIBEKO: I believe that it does exist because many people are dying’€¦ AIDS is something new to me. It came up in the early 80s. I wasn’€™t born at that time. I’€™ve heard of many people who have died of AIDS. That’€™s why I believe that it does exist.

KHOPOTSO: It’€™s not a case of ‘€œseeing is believing’€ for Nokwazi. Now that schools have closed for the year, hopefully, the lessons of life will remain with the youngsters. Petunia Mkhize, co-ordinator of the programme at Winnie Ngwekazi primary School, believes that the programme does have long-lasting effect.

PETUNIA MKHIZE: Besides the youth from the organisation, we have the youth from the community who come for information. So, we know that we have i-impact on them and their families as well.

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