Art Competition Encourages HIV Dialogues

Art Competition Encourages HIV Dialogues

A Cape Town based youth organisation has started an initiative raising awareness about the impact of health issues on young people’s lives. Earlier this year, Salesian Life Choices launched a poster competition to encourage youth to start discussions around topics. The most recent subject, in line with Worlds Aids Day is HIV.

“I wanted youth who are living with HIV to know that they are not alone, and to know that they can live healthy lives despite their disease,” 16-year-old Alex Nana from Windsor High explains his experience in developing posters.

Alex is a runner-up in a crowdsourcing campaign run by Salesian Life Choices. Learners from 19 high schools were invited to design posters that depicted aspects of HIV as part of the Health4Life initiative. The four winning posters, were designed by three learners from high schools in Athlone and Lansdowne. The posters had powerful messages: Do not Judge me by my Status; AIDS Can’t Be Cured, But Can Be Endured; Stay Informed – Know the facts; and Love Betrayed Me.

“The campaigns have the format of interactive health talks after school, followed by crowdsourcing competitions where teenagers develop creative posters that address risk perception, basic information and links to help. The aim of the campaign is to promote dialogue around the themes and to use the winning posters in communication campaigns at schools. Young people did not disappoint and as with the first competition the entries were excellent,” Leoni Vaughan Health4Life Manager at Salesian Life Choices.

There are five million youth living with HIV across the world, in South Africa, studies show nearly a third of new HIV infections are in adolescent girls and young women (aged 15-24). In Cape Town, the leading cause of death among young females is HIV/Aids accounting for 28.5% of all deaths, followed by Tuberculosis (13%) and interpersonal violence (11%).

“In South Africa, it is imperative to make every day of the year World Aids Day if we really want to beat this epidemic. A combination of international funders withdrawing from supporting HIV/Aids interventions, public fatigue and a few positive strides towards winning the battle, has led the country to becoming silent towards this serious matter. We need to continue being vigilant and working hard to stop HIV from spreading once and for all,” Sofia Neves MD at Salesian Life Choices explains.

One of the focus areas of Salesian Life Choices is to provide youth-friendly health services in high schools. The organisation works in 19 high schools and besides the health promotion campaigns, it offers HIV counselling and testing (HCT),  one-on-one psychosocial support and group talks in reproductive health on a weekly basis.

“The aim of providing health services in schools is rooted in comfort and ease. It is important that  youth feel comfortable, and that they feel safe and secure in the space. Youth often feel overwhelmed by travelling to and going to local clinics for assistance. We bring our services to them, to a space where they are comfortable to ask questions and advice,” Queen Gum youth health counsellor at Salesian Life Choices.

In alignment with their youth-focused interventions, the organisation launched the health promotion campaigns at the beginning of the year, aiming at creating platforms where youth voices are heard.   

Talking about the process of creating the poster, Alex says that it became a topic at school and at home, “At school, my friends and I are very creative, we would often spend our break times in art class. When we first heard about the competition we entered because it was another way we could be artistic, but this time the experience was different. As we were drawing we would talk about what we were doing and it often opened up the conversation on HIV, both from a preventative and empathetic way. We began to look at it from the point of view of someone living with the disease and the emotions they must be feeling. I would think about it often and talk about it with my 13-year-old brother and my parents. Before that we never spoke about the disease, today I am a lot more aware of it and I know my choices.”

Salesian Life Choices MD concludes by saying, “we believe that harvesting the potential of young people is key to achieve the dream of a Free HIV Generation. Allowing youth to take the lead has never disappointed us, after all they are the main characters of their lives, the heroes and heroines that one day will end the HIV epidemic. ”  

The winning poster designs