|Northern Ireland, Education for Life
Life, Love, Sex, HIV and Aids
Young South Africans teach "Education for Life" to pupils in Northern Ireland
"Freedom is certainly really important", says 15-year-old Shauna, a student at St Patrick's College in Banbridge, a small town to the south of Belfast. "Good, what else?" asks Thandi Hadebe, looking round the class. It is just after 10:30 in the morning and 22 pupils, both boys and girls, are sitting in the library of St Patrick's, a Catholic school. Instead of English, the programme for today includes "Education for Life". It is about dreams, hopes, feelings, love, sexuality and HIV/Aids.
Thandi Hadebe is the diocesan coordinator in the fight against Aids in the South African diocese of Tzaneen, in the north-east of the country. For years now this 31-year-old has been talking to young people as part of the "Education for Life" programme. It is a programme which by now has reached many thousands of adolescents in 12 different African countries. Her goal, along with that of the several hundred volunteers who help her, is to open up young people's minds to ways in which they can prevent their lives from being destroyed by the immunodeficiency virus HIV/Aids, which weakens people's resistance to disease and often results in death. While certain medicines can indeed prolong the life of those who have been infected, at present there is no known cure for Aids. The international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), has been supporting the "Education for Life" programme financially for many years.
In South Africa Thandi regularly holds discussions with young people, who know all too well that their country has one of the highest Aids rates in the entire world. During the last 10 years no fewer than 1.7 million people have died here from the consequences of an HIV infection. That corresponds roughly to the entire population of Cape Town or Warsaw. Aids is everywhere and yet the danger is ignored by many people. This is a dangerous state of affairs, for young people are especially vulnerable, since they at times can be easily influenced by the opinions and attitudes of those around them - their peers, friends, by all the coterie of the media and fashion industry - without fully considering the possible consequences of their behaviour for their own lives.
There is a great need for education and this is one of the main reasons why ACN and St Patrick's College have been supporting the work of the Education for Life programme for many years. Another reason is Sr Bernadette Duffy, who attended this school from 1977 to 1983 and who here, as she tells us, "for the first time felt the calling to the religious life". For the past 20 years this nun, who was born in Banbridge, has been living as a Sacred Heart Sister in Africa. For many years she taught religion and geography, but now she has been entrusted by the South African bishops' conference with the role of coordinator of the Education for Life programme.
At the invitation of her former school, Sister Bernadette has now brought a team of young South Africans with her to Northern Ireland. At St Patrick's and in four other schools they are now talking to young people. In Banbridge Thandi starts by putting a number of questions to her young listeners: "What is important to you? What are you guided by in the way you behave? Who or what influences you? Think about it!" To illustrate the issues she slips temporarily into the role of a teenager who, out of curiosity, ignores the warnings and rules she has been given, yet is not in a position to properly assess the consequences of her behaviour. This superficial attitude ultimately has dangerous consequences. She is supported in this role play by Neo Rakoma, a 24-year-old who acts the part of a girlfriend who, likewise pushed by curiosity, ignores the warnings she is given.
Thandi and Neo know how to make the young people think. "You are responsible for each other - through your own behaviour." Sexuality is not something that should be left at will to pleasure, inclination and feelings, the young African women tell them. Their message is clear: responsibility demands abstinence before marriage and faithfulness to one's husband or wife. By contrast the use of condoms -- even though this is vehemently denied by many -- promotes an attitude of irresponsibility.
Photo: Sr Bernadette Duffy and the Education for Life team
To help this cause please contact the Sydney office of ACN on (02) 9679-1929. e-mail:
or write to Aid to the Church in Need PO Box 6245 Blacktown DC NSW 2148. Web: www.aidtochurch.org