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The following post is courtesy of Dr. Leah Scherzer, an Adult Volunteer at Gaborone Teen Club:
Gaborone Teen Club: It Takes Two to Tango
Today was my first Teen Club and it rocked! Teen Club is a chance for HIV-positive teens ages 13-19 to get together each month. There are now Teen Clubs in four cities/towns in Botswana. The largest one is here in Gaborone with around 300 teens registered. On the average month about 120 show up! Since we have such a large group, the teens are divided into younger (13-15) and older (16-19) groups. This month the older teens got to learn Latin and Hip-Hop dancing, while the younger group had a session on “love, sex, and dating.” (Each month one of the groups does a “life skills” session, while the other group does a fun activity and the following month the groups switch).
The day began at 8:30am, as we gathered in the clinic parking lot for icebreakers. The fact that 120+ teenagers are willing to wake up early enough to be somewhere at 8:30 on a Saturday morning shows just how much Teen Club means to them (especially since some travel pretty far distances). The icebreakers were led by the excellent cadre of Teen Leaders (teens who have been elected to help to facilitate Teen Club, they also help with planning the activities, and many were counselors at Camp Hope this year. After the icebreakers the groups split up, with the older group going to a local school to learn Latin and Hip-Hop dancing and the younger group staying at the clinic.
I was one of the small group facilitators for the younger group. After an introduction, by the Teen Leaders, we split off into 6 small groups. I had a group of 11 (4 boys and 7 girls) and a Teen Leader as co-facilitator. Thank god for my Teen Leader, who was awesome! Many of the teens have a hard time understanding complex concepts in English and feel more comfortable speaking about tough issues in Setswana. So she was invaluable at leading the group and bridging the language divide. The activity was very well planned out and we facilitators had guides to help us lead the session. We began with a map of the city and had the teens point out areas in the city where boys and girls meet. We talked about what kinds of activities teens do in these areas and which ones were healthy or unhealthy. In a country where billboards proclaim “Who’s in your sexual network?” and where condoms are everywhere (more on that in a later post), these teens have gotten a lot of exposure to messages about the ABCs (Abstinence, Be Faithful, Condomize). So they were pretty quick to point out that unhealthy activities might include unprotected sex which could lead to teenage pregnancy, STIs (sexually transmitted infections), and “spreading the virus.”
Next we divided the girls and the boys and had them come up with the qualities that they would want in a boyfriend/girlfriend and then husband/wife. The girls wanted a boyfriend/husband with “inner beauty,” “one who respected them,” “one who slept at home at night,” (a reference to the practice of men having a “large house” and “small houses”) “one who was trustworthy, caring, and a good listener.” The boys wanted a girlfriend/wife who was smart (“able to help them with homework”), playful, good at communicating, had good ideas, was a good cook, a good mother, did not cheat, was not lazy, and respectful. We then spent some time talking about gender roles. For example, if husbands should be expected to help out with taking care of the children. Most girls said “well they won’t even know how to change a nappy” (diaper) and the boys said “it depends on if I have been at work all day.” The Teen Leader and I talked a little about how roles might need to be shared, especially if both partners were working outside the home (which is pretty common here).
We then had an exercise where we read statements and the teens had to move to one side of the room or the other to indicate whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement. We began with “a boy should always pay for food on dates,” to which only one boy agreed saying that “the man” should pay while everyone else said it should be more equal. We moved into more difficult questions the hardest being “If a married couple of two HIV-positive people wants to have a child it is okay for them to have unprotected sex.” In my group everyone disagreed with this. One girl explained that each person has a different HIV virus so you can still pass it to the other partner even if you are both positive (very advanced understanding esp. for a 14 yr old). Others said that the couple should adopt if they want to have children. Obviously the powerful message of the perils of unprotected sex has reached these teens; let’s just hope they practice what they preach. At the end we joined all the other groups for a discussion of the activity. We talked more in depth about this last difficult question and explained that it would be possible, under special circumstances, for an HIV positive couple to have an HIV-negative child, but it would be something that should be discussed with a doctor.
The activity went incredibly well. The teens were very engaged, and though some spoke up more than others, all participated. Teen Club is their one opportunity to be completely open about their HIV status and feelings surrounding it. Most don’t feel comfortable talking about it with any of their friends, including romantic partners, and live very secretive lives. The burden of constantly keeping a secret can be very troublesome, so it is great that they have Teen Club where at least once a month they can be open and honest.
After the session wrap-up all the teens gathered for lunch and to get transport money (Teen Club pays for their transport to and from the club to make it more accessible). Teen Club serves an incredibly valuable role in these teenagers’ lives. It runs largely on volunteers, but we do have to provide lunch and transport money. You may have noticed that there is a “button” on this website on the upper-right-hand side of the page. It says “Donate Now.” If you click on this button you will be transferred to the Texas Children’s Hospital website where you can make a secure, tax deducible donation to Teen Club. This money also gets used to support Camp Hope. Every dollar makes a huge difference, as for only $60 you can pay for the transport of 1 teen to Teen Club events every month for a YEAR! If you want to read more about how much things cost, visit the “Donate” page. So next time you are looking for a gift for someone, think about making a donation to Teen Club in their honor!