An AIDS-free Generation: Inspiring Youth in Kenya Through Dance
Alfred Sigo stands tall, looks squarely into the faces of the teenagers of Mombasa, and lays out the details of how he watched the people he loved die of AIDS. It is a story he has told nearly 100 times, but his eyes still well up when he speaks.
Along a country road to Simenya, Alfred’s uncle died. He had been critically ill, just like Alfred’s friends. Just like Alfred’s father.
Before his father knew his status, Alfred says, he led a local self-help group for people living with HIV. So when he discovered he was HIV positive, he was afraid of disappointing his community. His fear kept him from seeking treatment.
Alfred was only 20 years old when he lost his father. He became responsible for his 12 siblings and for finding a way to change all of their lives.
“At some point I was glad I went through those rough times,” Alfred says. “They turned out to be a blessing.” “At some point I was glad I went through those rough times,” Alfred says. “They turned out to be a blessing.”
Today, Alfred speaks as the founder and director of a local drama group, supported by the USAID-funded APHIAplus program, led by Pathfinder. From October to December 2011, Pathfinder helped drama groups like Alfred’s reach approximately 9,000 young people with knowledge about HIV and AIDS. With music, personal stories, and theatrical skits, Alfred and his friends reach out to other young Kenyans with the single-minded purpose of preventing HIV.
“In this group, most people have lost someone. Being together gives us hope,” Alfred says. When he performs, he shares that hope with others. But it takes a lot of work.
Before each performance, Alfred and his friends develop a script, tailoring it to a specific audience—school children, a mix of teenagers and parents, etc. Then, after two days of practice, they arrive at the venue, singing and dancing wildly in the street. Alfred and his friends are magnetic; they draw in their audience to watch the drama unfold.
“Usually, a skit will have two main characters, one who makes good health choices and one who does not,” describes Alfred. “Then, we show the comparisons between the two and encourage the crowd to choose. We encourage them to get tested for HIV and use preventative measures.”
This youth-to-youth outreach is an important part of the APHIAplus program. It complements the program’s efforts to increase access to HIV and AIDS services and promote healthy behaviors among the most at-risk Kenyans.
“Our program makes sure that Alfred’s group has the knowledge and skills to convey these messages,” says Linet Otieno, Communications Advisor for Pathfinder and APHIAplus. “Our Behaviour Change Communication department trains them to engage youth in discussions about the very real challenges they face.”
With forty percent of all new HIV infections occurring among young people (ages 15-24), there is no time to waste. Pathfinder focuses on this critical group, because fear, stigma, and misinformation often prevent them from making healthy decisions or accessing the services they need.
Yet, there is tremendous hope. At this point in their lives, young people are still developing the attitudes and behaviors that will shape them throughout their lives. And they can use their dynamism and passion to be catalysts for change. Just like Alfred.
Alfred cannot believe how far he has come. Or how many young people he has brought along with him.