Newsletter, October 7th 2012
Education Tour program – not an ordinary school day
Whenever Bongodox hits a school, girls and boys are initially divided into separate groups, with each group having a designated location to privately discuss matters specifically relevant for the individual group. While sheltered from the self-consciousness and shyness usually generated by the presence of the opposite gender, the groups is given 25 minutes to discuss matters related to sexual intercourse and HIV/AIDS. Hereafter, the groups are assembled to view a Bongodox produced HIV/AIDS documentary in which, they are able to hear co-students express their views on different challenges students face in their school environment that, inevitably lead some to engage in non-safe sexual relationships, thereby exposing themselves to HIV/AIDS. After the viewing, a Bongodox representative gives advice on the correct use of condoms and initiates a final discussion in plenum during which the students are free to ask questions. Whenever there is time, Kisamakibo ends the arrangement with one of their songs to the students’ great amusement.
The limitations of a ´Do, but don’t tell sex policy’ at Tanzanian secondary schools
Approximately two years ago, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)) succeeded in convincing the government of Tanzania to revise its law and allow young mothers to continue education at their former schools. With pregnancy being the main reason for girls dropping out of schools, it obviously isn’t a secret that pupils are sexually active. Experience gained by Bongodox can confirm this.
While the situation is not unknown, it is highly neglected by schools policies, making it difficult for students to be open about their sexual activities, consequently making them unable to seek advice at school on how to engage wisely in a sexual relationship when parents refuse to lend their ears to such issues – which is often the case.
It is therefore not surprising that Bongodox is welcomed by the students, as a breath of fresh air, asking questions that illustrate their thirst for a holistic and unrestricted discussion. While some of the questions expose the limitations of the society in which they live, others are questions familiar to any adolescent irrespective of country of residence. Judging from the topics dealt with in the discussions, these boys and girls are in serious need of advice on sexual matters, and while the school is obligated to teach about HIV/AIDS during the school year, it is apparent that the teaching provided is neither adequate nor holistically structured so as to embrace questions and answers that aren’t strict biological facts.
|Film event at Kipoke Secondary School|
HIV virus in condoms and risk of getting cancer?
It seems to be a myth among students that the HIV virus is found in condoms, and therefore students are sceptical towards the use of condoms. Also, rumour goes that the use of condoms increases the risk of cancer. While the first question is easy to deflate, because the HIV cannot survive outside of the body for any substantial length of time, the latter questions is trickier – “last I heard, one can get cancer from almost anything nowadays” – obviously not the right answer to give students whose trust in the safety of condoms is marginal.
A German study for the Chemical and Veterinary Investigation Institute in Stuttgart did show that 29 out of 32 brands of condoms contain a cancer causing chemical, findings that have been dismissed by condom manufactures, with Durex manufacturer responding that the findings are“(..) completely unsupported by medical and scientific evidence and no regulatory body has ever called for limits to be set on levels of nitrosamines in condoms (…) moreover that “The European standards authority has quite consciously omitted setting limits for nitrosamines or nitrosable substances [in condoms], because it considers there to be no question of risk” (Chemistry world, issue July 2004).
Other studies have indicated that the transferrable amount of cancer-causing chemicals by the use of condoms are significantly lower than the average daily dosis attributed to normal eating and drinking. Perhaps more research is due on this field – nonetheless, how does one explain that truth is sometimes relative to the objective easily without getting into university level slang such as discourse analysis and so forth? Still thinking…
Philosophy and ARV medicine
Another question was of a moral philosophical nature. One boy asked; whether it isn’t wrong to give ARV medicine to HIV infected people, as they thereby will be given a longer period to infect more people with the disease. In a country where the infection rate is alarmingly high, and people are just starting to grasp the nature of the problem, this is not a strange question to ask - many wrong things in history have been done in the name of the collective good, shouldn’t this be one of them? Luckily, the boy seemed to understand the dilemma of the question asked when asked to reflect on, whether he would come to the same conclusion if his mother was infected.
|Film event at Lufingo Secondary School - lack of space in the classroom|
An open window – teacher’s compromises and legal jargon
While the above examples show that a holistic HIV/AIDS debate is needed in secondary schools in Tanzania, one needs to understand that the problem lies on a higher structural level than that of the individual school. Bongodox is only able to make the Education Tour due to the compromise of the school leaders, as they very well could have declined the Bongodox offer to come and teach. It appears that the teachers are sympathetic to the cause and often welcome Bongodox to come and teach again. They too know, maybe more than others, the facts of life in secondary schools despite school policies.
Yet, one teacher did inform that she recently experienced an expulsion of two girls (4th graders – approx. 16-17 years) due the unaccepted case scenario – pregnancy. The girls weren’t allowed to take their final exams. She seemed to recall the newly implemented law, allowing girls to return to their school after childbirth, but it was obvious that she didn’t have the final word. Another evidence of the discrepancy between legal jargon and real life experiences – yet another obstacle needed to be addressed in Tanzania.
As for now the Bongodox Education Tour is approaching its end. At the end of this month 12 villages and 11 schools will have been visited by Bongodox, and hopefully some of the many discussions will be remembered by some. Bongodox can try to make a difference, not force it upon others. For that to happen, let’s call for a revolution. One that carries the essence of the famous catch phrase heard repeatedly in Tanzania - TUKO PAMOJA – literally WE’RE TOGETHER, but perhaps better translated in the words of Bob Marley – ONE LOVE.
/Mathias & Catherine