When an Islamic primary school invites a Catholic teacher to speak to its students, you know there’s got to be an incredibly compelling reason.
In Uganda, that reason is AIDS prevention.
Recently, a few Cross staff members got to sit in on a classroom session while Josephine Kabuye, an Education For Life facilitator with the Mbikko Integrated Development project, quizzed a group of Muslim students on their knowledge about HIV/AIDS – a disease that has claimed many lives and orphaned many children in this poor African country.
Josephine, whose own brother is infected with HIV, asked the children to tell her what they know about condoms. Ugandan children are exposed to sex and even prostitution at a young age, but have many misconceptions about how to protect themselves. Josephine’s goal is to show them that the only safe choice, and the only moral choice, is sexual abstinence until marriage.
Muslims and Catholics disagree on many things, but both groups see how AIDS has ravaged Uganda, and they are willing to work together to reach children as early as possible with a message of sexual purity. Catholics can’t proselytize in Muslim schools, but they can motivate kids to live moral lives. And it seems to be working.
Thirteen-year-old Joyce, a student at a nearby Catholic school that hosts Education For Life seminars, told us that older youths have offered her money for sex on more than one occasion, and she has said no every time.
“We should not give the gift of sex,” Joyce said, as she explained to us the strategy she learned for keeping herself pure – avoiding bad peer groups, dressing modestly, staying away from bars, and joining sports and social clubs.
Behavior change is also a spiritual matter, and that is why Josephine uses the Old Testament (which is also respected by Muslims) in her discussions. She wants to reach the hearts of the children and convince them that there is more to life than sex. Often, young girls will confide in her that they have been raped by a family member or forced to have an abortion. They need to know that there is hope, that God loves them, and that their value is more than skin deep.
CLICK HERE to find out how you can support the Mbikko Integrated Development project and turn back the tide of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.