This last week I worked a 2-day campaign at the tertiary colleges of the Sekhukhune district (CS Barlow and Dr CN Phatudi campuses). The campaign was organized by First Things First, a school-based project that emphasizes campus health and health education. Over 2 days I had one-on-one sexual health and wellness counseling with 71 college students, and the event overall reached over 500 students! What a success!
Common issues found among the students are lack of condom usage and thus a high prevalence of HIV and STIs.
Developmental work isn’t as simple as just saying ‘use condoms’. No, it must reach a level deeper than that.
There’s a reason why a person chooses not to use a condom. Some may generalize it as stubbornness, but I see much more complexity in the situation and therefore opportunity for development and capacity building to happen. Ignorance about proper condom usage is a very superficial problem. What’s more likely is that the person doesn’t have confidence in condom negotiation, or is in a relationship where an imbalance of power exists, and there may even be cultural barriers to accessing free condoms without facing berating and judgement.
These are heavy, intricate issues. And they are real. And I try my best to combat them everyday with the people I counsel.
And I don’t want to make it seem like these problems only exist in South Africa; it’s everywhere. But I think the prevalence is higher here because of certain cultural drivers of HIV like the pressure for women to be submissive and obedient to men. One woman I spoke with wanted an HIV test because she suspects (knows) her husband is cheating on her. She doesn’t feel comfortable talking about using condoms with him for fear of getting a physically or verbally abusive response.
I struggle with having to tip toe around cultural norms because I don’t want to offend anyone, while at the same time I must encourage self-advocacy and ownership over your own body.
With each and every person I encounter, I strive to deliver quality service because they deserve 100% from me. It most definitely gets exhausting, but it’s thoroughly fulfilling work and at the end of each day I pack up my tents feeling that I made a positive impact.
On Friday I wrapped up National Condom Week by doing a group exercise on proper condom usage for male and female condoms with 150 learners at a local high school. These are always full of laughs and fun, but the retention of the skill is there because they all demonstrated pretty accurately!
The clock’s ticking and before I know it it’ll be time to leave! What a weird thing!