Thailand Triumphs in the Human Race Game
In a startling act of international cooperation, Thailand partnered with countries around the world to complete the Human Race Game. Thailand was the only country to achieve this status, as others found themselves isolated, lost or frustrated. Canada, a country with numerous resources at the start, made the mistake of avoiding partnerships and was unsuccessful in its bid to complete the task by the required deadline.
The Human Race Game is a part of AC-AF’s u+me=we workshop, and is designed to demonstrate the difficulties countries face in the fight against HIV & AIDS. Teams are given knowledge and resources reflecting the status of the country they represent, and all countries are given the same task to complete. However, they must form partnerships and trade resources with other teams in order to finish the assignment. Through this activity students are reminded of what the HIV epidemic means on a global scale.
As ‘sexual education’ is a part of the Ontario curriculum for young people, we generally assume that our youth are well informed on safe sexual practices. It would also seem reasonable to believe that safe sexual practices are maintained or increased as young people age and mature. However, a 2003 study on the sexual practices of Canadian youth in grades 7 (age 12-13), 9 (age 14-15) and 11 (age 16-17) demonstrated that grade 9s were actually more likely to use a condom (75-80%) than those in grade 11 (64-75%). Grade 11s had a higher tendency of using a contraceptive pill as their method of protection, a practice which is associated with an increase of long-term relationships. On the other hand, “This pattern of favouring the pill over condoms with increasing relationship duration has been used to explain the increases in teen STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) rates during an extended period of declining teen pregnancy rates in Canada (Boyce, et al, 2006).”
Knowing this, it is important that our young people are reminded of the necessity of using protection against STIs and HIV. Our u+me=we programme is focused on leading a detailed but open discussion with young people on how to protect themselves, and on dispelling the myths around HIV. Starting November 13th, AC-AF was invited to implement its three day u+me=we workshop at Central Technical High School, Toronto. Two classes were involved, totalling 42 individuals, and all were aged 16-19.
As part of a warm-up, Executive Director Dave Christie challenged students to raise their hand if they believed the HIV workshop would be wasting their time – one daringly took that challenge to express their apathy. They believed they already had the answers, yet ironically, this individual would be a primary source of questions later. In education there can be a reluctance to learn what we feel is not related to our own lives, and youth may have an aversion to the way they are taught.
One of the most frequent remarks received from students after the fact, was on their initial assumption that they were going to be lectured on HIV & AIDS. Instead, they were pleasantly surprised to discover how personal the discussion was, how they were treated as adults and with respect. As one student commented, “Without forcing anything down my throat like most workshops do, this was more hands on and interactive and had a very friendly environment accepting of questions and opinions along with changing everyday opinions to appeal to others.” – 16 year old male
It also allowed them to put a face to HIV, to remove the separation and stigma that seems to exist within Canadian society, and to give them the understanding that anyone could be living with the virus – whether it be friend, co-worker, or family member. A 19 year old female stated that, “It has changed the way I think about sexual health. I don’t wanna get that virus nor anyone close to me so I plan to talk to others about it so they are also protected.”
The questions that came out of this initial discussion demonstrated how lacking our sexual education can be. One student was under the impression that only men could contract the virus. Another brought up the rumour that HIV started from ‘sex with monkeys’. Still others questioned transmission methods – whether the virus could be spread without ejaculation into the body, the possibility of blood transmission, or whether skin transfer could occur. The classroom sentiment had shifted from disinterested students, to active engagement with a subject that is often avoided.
While u+me=we experiences a higher level of implementation in Tanzania than in Canada, these three days were a strong reminder of the need that exists within our schools here at home. Sexuality, and the safe practices which must surround it, cannot be evaded or glossed over with young people. A deeper engagement is necessary to remind them of the potential drawbacks of sexual acts, to promote best practices, and to provide a sense of HIV’s global impact.
Boyce, William, et al. (2006). “Sexual Health of Canadian Youth: Findings from the Canadian Youth, Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Study”. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality. Vol 15(2); pg 59-68.