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History has placed a great burden on our shoulders. As members of the human race and as educators, every one of us here today faces a task that has ramifications for the lives and
well-being of countless individuals—adults, youth and children. Each of us bears the lives of others in our hands. The understandings we develop these two days, the decisions we make, the commitment we
show, will not be confined to this auditorium but will have repercussions throughout the whole of South Africa and will echo from there into other parts of the continent and the world. Our task is
simply described; its execution is difficult and challenging. Our job in these two days—and in the weeks that follow—is to establish a dynamic education coalition against HIV/AIDS that will accelerate
the progress of South Africa and the world towards a world without AIDS.

For too long we have been standing by—timid, confused, uncertain, feeling that we were powerless,
wanting to do something constructive but not quite sure what. And all the time, men, women and children continued to be infected in their millions, to fall sick in their millions, to die in their
millions. We work in the middle of the AIDS killing fields (Akukwe & Foote, 2001). We have daily experience of the passive genocide of our most productive people (Coombe, 2001). We live through a silent
holocaust that makes the Jewish Holocaust in Nazi Germany pale by comparison (Nyumbani, 2001). We have let two decades slip through our hands when our response to HIV/AIDS was little more than a scrappy
rearguard action against what we saw as an almost insuperable enemy.

The young people today are the AIDS generation (Kiragu, 2001). They have never known a world without HIV or
AIDS, no more than they have ever known a world without television or air transport. But AIDS is of much more recent origin than either television or air transport. It was on 5th June 1981,
almost exactly twenty-one years ago, that the United States Centers for Disease Control published a report about a new disease that was hitting gay men. That report marked the formal beginning of the
AIDS era. It ushered in what we now know as the AIDS pandemic. During the twenty-one years that have passed since then the disease has grown to nightmarish proportions, with almost every passing year
seeing a revision upwards of dire estimates and predictions. The challenge to us is to put a halt to this obscene growth of the disease, to say to it in forceful action-backed terms: “Thus far and no
further.”

To accomplish this, we must undertake a threefold task:

  • We must harness the huge potential of the education sector to prevent further HIV infection.
  • We must mobilize the sector to offer support and care to those within our educational constituencies who are infected with the disease or are in any way affected by it.
  • We must take steps to keep our own house in order, to protect the education sector itself from the inroads and ravages of the disease, so that it continues to make educational
    provision in the quantity and quality that is required, while at the same time it exercises its potency to stem HIV infection.

What Has Gone Wrong?

If we are to use the potential of the education sector to defeat HIV/AIDS, it is important that we base our
initiatives on some understanding of what has gone wrong, why the AIDS pandemic has got out of hand and why, in particular, the response so far from the education sector has been so limited.


The Inadequacy of Action at International, National and Local Levels

It is unfortunately all too true that in many ways the world, countries and communities,
have allowed themselves to get into the current HIV/AIDS crisis almost by default. Notwithstanding the urgency with which warning signs presented themselves, the world (and we as part of it) has stood
by and watched a steady, seemingly unstoppable, drift into crisis, disaster and catastrophic human tragedy. Factors that have made a major contribution to the ease with which the disease has spread and
the ineptitude of the response include:

  • Lack of leadership and vision at global, regional and national levels. In the few cases where these were available, such as in Senegal and Uganda, the disease made slower progress
    or receded.
  • Silence and denial at various levels—national, community, and individual. To some extent silence and denial are a primordial and protective human response to situations that are
    excessively stressful. In the words of the poet, T. S. Elliott, “humankind cannot bear too much reality”. But trying to cover up the existence of AIDS, as still commonly occurs in families and
    communities, and even in some countries, will never lead to mastery over the disease or its impacts.
  • Attitudes, behaviours, insidious associations, and adverse social reactions that discriminate against and stigmatize those with HIV/AIDS and drive acknowledgement of the disease
    into an underground of silence, secrecy, shame and self-recrimination. Fourteen years ago, Jonathan Mann, the Director of the agency that preceded UNAIDS, spoke of this as the “third epidemic,” the
    other two being the silent epidemic of HIV infection and the manifest epidemic of clinical AIDS, and noted that allowing this third epidemic to go unchecked would ensure that neither of the other two
    could be controlled (Walrond, 2000).
  • Lack of correct information on how the disease can be contracted, how it can be prevented, and what those infected can do to ensure that they live a longer life of better quality.
    Even today a significant proportion of young people, in South Africa as elsewhere, do not know any way of protecting themselves against HIV infection, are not aware that oral and anal sex involve
    extensive HIV transmission risks, and think that you can judge by appearances whether or not a person is HIV infected.
  • Failure by the international community and national governments to commit the human and financial resources needed for a large-scale onslaught on the disease. The Global Fund for
    AIDS, TB and Malaria, which the United Nations established with considerable fanfare in June 2001 has so far raised less than one-fifth of its target. Doubling the resources currently available to the
    Fund would represent only about one cent of each US$100 of income in the world’s wealthiest countries (Harvard, 2001, p. 18), but in the absence of a sense of international responsibility and urgency
    this is not forthcoming.
  • Weak capacity to design and deliver response measures.
  • A strong focus on short-term measures aimed principally at behaviour change, but with minimal attention in the context of the disease to the enabling environment of poverty,
    malnutrition, the powerlessness in many societies of women and young girls, inadequate health support services, lack of job opportunities, and the absence of recreational outlets.
  • Inadequate attention to developing comprehensive strategies that focus on the physical, social, economic, recreational and psychological needs of youth (ECA, 2001). The war against
    AIDS will be won when it is won among the youth—no sooner, no later.
  • Overriding attention to dealing with the disease at the level of the individual, but with little recognition that the disease was also undermining the ability of systems,
    organizations and institutions to cater for the needs of individuals and society. Education, health and agricultural sectors have been particularly at risk. The results are already with us in terms of
    unanticipated shortages in educational provision (UNICEF, 2000), health care systems that are being brought to a standstill (UNAIDS, 2000), and food shortages coupled with the increased production of
    easier-to-manage but less nutritious food crops (FAO, 2001).

Failure in many approaches to be sensitive to cultural and religious perceptions and values, with the result that suspicions, intransigence and conflict over peripheral issues (such as
condom use) have tended to overshadow what should be a shared world and community vision of how to respond to the disease.

The Hesitant, Uncertain Education Response to
HIV/AIDS

The uncertainty up to fairly recently of the education sector’s response to the disease is brought out by the fact that, early in 1994, the International Institute
for Educational Planning in Paris produced and disseminated a very comprehensive report on how HIV/AIDS was likely to impact the education sector, but almost six years passed before education ministries
began to take on board the contents of that seminal work (Schaeffer, 1994). During these lost years, the AIDS situation in general, and in the education system in particular, grew steadily worse.

The constrained response of education sectors to HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s was due, among other things, to:

  • Inability to provide for the basic learning needs of every child, youth and adult.
  • Lack of appreciation of the scale of the epidemic and its potential to undermine the education system.
  • Absence of strategic planning for HIV/AIDS in the education sector.
  • Considerable piloting of HIV/AIDS education programmes, but with little coordination between interventions and few, if any, being brought to scale.
  • Lack of teacher capacity to deliver relevant HIV/AIDS education.
  • Uncomfortable recognition by educators and system managers that addressing HIV/AIDS raises questions about their personal HIV status and social behaviour.
  • Concern lest teaching content and activities conflict with community, cultural or religious practices, norms and values.

The tragedy of the past twenty years is that education sectors worldwide, but especially in the most severely affected countries, did not get moving early enough to respond to the
demands of HIV/AIDS. When they did begin to take account of the epidemic, they adjusted themselves in an almost random way to its demands, cautiously, hesitantly, timidly. Even today, many have not
succeeded in taking on board either the potential of the epidemic to undermine their systems or, equally important, the potential of the system to counterattack and undermine the epidemic. They are
still in a state of virtual disarray, inadequate understanding and piecemeal response. They have a multitude of projects that address facets of the disease, but few coordinated, strategic programmes
that address the challenges on the scale that is required.

In this climate of hesitation and vacillation, the Call-to-Action, Tirisano HIV/AIDS Programme of 1999 marked a
significant advance. However, much of that programme still awaits implementation. It is the responsibility of this Conference to move the process forward and to establish a coalition of partners who
will ensure that the education sector in South Africa forges steadily ahead in the implementation of this comprehensive plan.

Translating Theological Researches into Lived Realities:The Case of Africa
The Response of a Zambian Catholic School to the Challenge of HIV/AIDS

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