East Rand woman takes sex ed into the classroom

East Rand woman takes sex ed into the classroomNomthandazo Kumalo works with the Treatment Action Campaign to do HIV and sex education at East Rand schools, hoping to reach South Africa's most vulnerable population when it comes to HIV - other young women.

In a country where about one in ten people are living with HIV, only about a quarter of young people know how the virus is transmitted. Nomthandazo Kumalo is trying to change that.

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Nomthandazo Kumalo said she had dreams of going to college after Grade 12 but says she feels activism "chose her" instead.
Nomthandazo Kumalo said she had dreams of going to college after Grade 12 but says she feels activism “chose her” instead.

The latest Human Science Research Council national HIV prevalence study found that about 12 percent of South Africans were living with HIV. The study also showed that only about a quarter of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 had accurate knowledge about how the virus was transmitted sexually.

While sex education, including HIV prevention, is part of national life orientation curriculum gaps in education around sexuality, condom use, as well as communication and decision-making skills within relationships is still lacking, according to a 2012 United Nations Population Fund study.

AIDS lobby group the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) has now started youth outreach programmes to ensure that young men and women know how to protect themselves from HIV. Nomthandazo Kumalo is one of the TAC’s youth educators.[quote float= left]“(The students) feel free to talk to me as I am in the same age group as them”

When Kumalo began coming home with stacks of condoms in her purse, she says her mother began to wonder. It took Kumalo time to convince her mum that carrying condoms was all in a day’s work for the young HIV activist from Duduza on Johannesburg’s East Rand who spends her time speaking to youth at local schools about sex.

“I go to high schools around the townships requesting the school heads to give me an opportunity to have sexual health programmes with the learners,” she tells OurHealth. “(The students) feel free to talk to me as I am in the same age group as them.”

“I’m changing lives of our youth and giving hope to those who have lost it,” adds Kumalo, who joined TAC in 2010. “I believe activism chose me.”

TAC community mobiliser Fikile Mtsweni is Kumalo’s manager. Mtsweni says Kumalo has become one of the TAC’s strongest advocates for the sexual and reproductive health rights of young people and says her work is reducing the number of sexually transmitted infections in communities.

Even Kumalo’s mother has come to recognise the importance of her daughter’s work.

“She motivates people of her age,” says Phumzile Kumalo. “I thank TAC for having such programmes where our children are being taught the dangers of unsafe sex.”