Botswana Teen Club Hosts Multiple Concurrent Partnerships (MCP) Training

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The following post is courtesy of one of our Adult Volunteers for Gaborone Teen Club, Anisha Varghese:

Participants at the first Botswana-Baylor Teen Club MCP Training.

Botswana Teen Club Hosts Multiple Concurrent Partnerships (MCP) Training

It had only been a few days into the start of my three-month internship at Baylor as a Teen Club Project Assistant when I was given the opportunity to attend a four-day workshop on multiple concurrent partnerships (MCP). The workshop was hosted at Baylor, and was sponsored by the Botswana-Baylor Teen Club and National AIDS Coordinating Agency (NACA).

I got to mingle with the attendees – social workers, nurses, and lay counselors – who hailed from various

Check yourself! Break the chain of Multiple Concurrent Partnerships (MCP)!

health facilities and NGOs across the country. Each organization did a presentation on who they were, what they did, and what challenges they faced on a daily basis. It was pretty evident to me that each and every person at the workshop was passionate about improving the lives of people living with HIV and AIDS. The purpose of the workshop was to educate the attendees on the impact of MCP on the HIV epidemic in Botswana.

The workshop was supposed to help give each of the attendees the knowledge and the tools to train adolescents to be peer educators on the topic of MCP. I also learned that the MCP initiative as a whole was designed to help achieve the government of Botswana’s goal of zero new infections by the year 2016. I’m not sure that six years is enough time to achieve that goal, but I definitely have a great deal of respect for any and all attempts that try and get there.

The workshop involved a mixture of presentations, small-group discussions, brainstorming, and role-play. The interactive nature of the workshop kept us alert and interested. Various speakers gave overviews of the developmental stages of adolescence, and tutorials on effectively communicating with adolescents. Of greatest interest to me was the in-depth exploration of Botswana’s HIV epidemic and, in small groups, the participants reflected and debated about its possible causes.

Then, the focus of the workshop turned towards MCP, its causes, and how it is the major culprit in the HIV epidemic in Botswana. Ponder these facts (they shocked me!): the United States has a lower average age at first sexual experience than Botswana, as well as lower rates of condom use and HIV testing. How is it, then, that Botswana still has a much higher rate of HIV infection than the US? Part of the problem (and the reason for this workshop) is that the rates of concurrent partnerships in Botswana is much higher than that in the States (rates of circumcision among Batswana males is also significantly lower). After we gained a bit more of an appreciation of why MCP was so problematic, we started to reflect on whether it could be changed. People were saying that, on the one hand, MCP is deep-rooted in culture, traditions, and gender roles. On the other hand, however, even the most ingrained of cultural practices can be changed. Culture is essentially created and sustained by a network of individuals and, as such, a cultural revolution (of sorts!) would require each and every person to be engaged and committed to the cause. The positive news is that the MCP campaign is one of the important first steps in this change.

On the last day, teens from the Teen Club were the special guests in a workshop on sexual networks. We worked with

Training participants discuss Multiple Concurrent Partnerships in a small-group discussion session.

some teens from Teen Club to brainstorm a way to best communicate the concept of sexual networks, and their responsibility in spreading HIV at a rapid rate. After engaging in role-play (i.e., adults explaining to teenagers the problems with MCP), the participants used flannelograms and pictures of people to illustrate the spread of HIV through sexual networks. The main message: HIV can spread like wildfire in the context of sexual networks. On the other hand, faithful, monogamous couples “break the chain” of HIV and limit the virus from being spread.

In sum, the workshop was a great success! The success of the role-play and small-group discussions was a pretty good indicator that the participants had gained tools to take the message of the MCP campaign back to their respective organizations.