On September 8th & 9th, 32 (out of a total of 40) PeacePlayers International- South Africa coaches and staff members attended an HIV/AIDS Counseling & Testing Session held in partnership with Zoë-Life, a health development and training organization, at Glenridge Community Church. One of PPI-SA’s main goals is to raise awareness in our participants – especially the teenagers in our Leadership Development Program – of the importance of knowing their HIV status. We assume that having been given basic information about the virus and the AIDS epidemic, and some encouragement to test, our participants will eagerly rush to the nearest health centre to get tested. However, our experience with our own staff – the coaches and area coordinators who teach at our sites as well as their managers – has shown that testing for HIV can often be difficult even for those who know the benefits of it well.
During the Zoë-Life session, each PPI-SA employee had a 45-minute meeting with one of the three Zoë-Life counselors, in which counsellors asked participants questions, participants had the opportunity to ask the counsellors any questions they had as well, and an HIV/AIDS test was administered. Each participant knew their results within five minutes of the test, and emotional support was provided by Zoë-Life staff before, during and after the testing.
PPI-SA Senior Life Skills Coordinator Ntobeko Ngcamu, who was crucial in the planning and coordination of the event, had the following to say about the session, “This was the first step of what PPI-SA is doing and I’m so proud to be a part of an organization that is making a positive impact in my community. To have such great participation from our staff and coaches is a dream come true and shows promise for a better tomorrow for South Africa.”
This entire experience presents some important lessons for those of us concerned with HIV/AIDS prevention, especially in South Africa:
- The subject of HIV is still taboo and difficult to feel comfortable about;
- Knowledge of the need and benefits of testing alone is not enough to make people get tested – other factors like support and the right environment also count;
- People respond differently to the concept of HIV testing, and may be ready to go ahead with it at different times;
- It is important for us educators to undergo the process ourselves first before we can seek to convince others to do so, so that we may better understand any issues they may have that make them resistant to testing. The old adage stays true – we must practice what we preach.
Thank you to Zoë-Life Managing Director and PPI-SA Board Member Neville Keenan, for providing the staff and resources (at zero cost to PPI-SA!) for the event and to Glenridge Community Church for lending the ideal venue. PPI-SA hopes to replicate the Counseling & Testing Event once each semester moving forward, so that each PPI-SA employee is able to make informed decisions in their daily lives and have the knowledge to educate their participants, peers, families and communities about HIV/AIDS.