Condomise, giving HIV/AIDS awareness campaign a students’ touch: Exploits of Banja La Mtsogolo

Malawi’s colleges and universities – both public and private – have proven, over the years, not to be only esteemed citadels of knowledge but also immorality boulevards where vices ranging from beer-scapades to condomless sexcapading are tapped. The results have been deplorable – heightened HIV/AIDS infections and educated savages for leaders of tomorrow. Nyasa Times’ Special Projects & Supplements Editor Pius Nyondo explores how serious HIV/AIDS is in the country’s higher institutions of learning and what some non-government organisations such as Banja La Mtsogolo, using various techniques, are doing in making sure that the pandemic is brought to zero.

Before Tuesday, November 12, 2013, Abigail Mlauzi (not real name), 21, thought that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS was just one of those myths the world keeps on being fed with. She had, never in her life, dreamt of ever coming closer to or contracting the deadly virus herself.

Condomise  to prevent pregnancy,  HIV and AIDS  and STI  infections.
Condomise to prevent pregnancy, HIV and AIDS and STI infections.

And; yet, she recalls that it was on Tuesday, November 12, 2013 that she officially was told that she had the virus moving up and about in her blood. Much as she somehow blames herself now that she had put so much trust in her boyfriend and slept with her without protection several times, Abigail – a fourth year student at Mzuzu University to finish her undergraduate studies this December – says she has since accepted her challenge and has vowed to move on with life.

Abigail says that she is happy about her HIV status, something she says most of her friends take for granted.

“I’m now more careful than ever because I want to remain as healthy as possible,” said Abigail.

But how did she gather the courage to go for and HIV test?

“It wasn’t because I was sick. I remember UNFPA had come on campus with a ‘Condomize Project’ aimed at offering HIV services for free to the students including free HIV testing and counselling.

“I had initially gone for the test simply because of t-shirts which were being offered to all those who went for one. Without the UNFPA event, I don’t think I would have gone for the test,” explained Abigail.

So, knowing pretty well that the technique of bringing HIV/AIDS services to secondary schools and colleges across the country is workable and bears results, Banja La Mtsogolo (BLM) too has partnered with National AIDS Commission (NAC) to bring such services to college-going students through social weekends – moments when students take their time off academic endeavours and have fun around.

Said BLM Country Director Nicky Mathews of the project: “This is a great opportunity for young people to access sexual health services and find out what they need to know to keep themselves healthy in a safe and friendly environment.”

She added: “The objective of the campaign is to stimulate health seeking behaviours among young people through edutainment and uptake of sexual and reproductive health services.”

The project rolled out with a massive social weekend at Mzuni where – apart from free HIV testing and counselling – services including free male circumcision, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) screening and treatment are going to be offered for a whole week – beginning June 6 – 13, 2014.

BLM products manager Mario Mambo told Nyasa Times that the project is poised to register a massive success based on the reception young people around Mzuzu City have offered it.

“Much as the project was initially planned for Mzuni, Mzuzu Technical College and Ekwendeni College of Nursing as main participants, it also targeted walk-in youths from all over the city – a thing which worked out aptly well,” said Mambo.

He said students and young people are taking the message about HIV/AIDS awareness and the need to keep their selves healthy seriously.

“A lot of students are undergoing HIV tests, most young men are coming in for circumcision while girls are also coming in large numbers for sexual reproductive health services and pregnancy tests,” added Mambo.

The project, according to Mambo, is going to be taken to all universities across Malawi.

“The Mzuni event was some sort of litmus test for us but we are most encouraged with the outcome. The success has been beyond our expectations.

“Within the next coming year we should be able to do the same to other public and private colleges and universities across the country,” he said.

The event, hosted at Mzuni, was spiced up by celebrated Malawi’s urban music artists Piksy and Young Kay.

There were also sporting activities in the categories of football, basketball, pool, darts, netball and chess.

Lecturer in the Department of Languages and Literature Misheck Banda hailed BLM for the initiative saying it was only adding weight on some of the projects the department has rolled out on HIV/AIDS awareness campaign in secondary schools and colleges across the country.

“What is current in the department is the movie Alufeyo, which the department intends to freely make available to all Mzuni students as well as their colleagues across the country,” said Banda.

The movie, shot and produced by Mzuni staff, is a moving HIV/AIDS “story of a young man with a humble background who must find a way of striking a balance between his traditionally quiet, focused and reserved lifestyle and the seemingly exciting college life.”

Perhaps, as Abigail opines, this is one of the best ways that college going students and all young people in the country can be brought to begin appreciating the reality that is HIV/AIDS.

“We [young people] love entertainment. By giving HIV/AIDS an entertainment touch, I’m very certain BLM will achieve tangible results in spreading the word,” opined Abigail.

She added: “It is a fact that our parents have failed to relay messages of HIV/AIDS probably because of our reserved cultures. Programmes like this one BLM have rolled out needs to be supported by us all, and must not be taken with a grain of salt.”

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