Global Perspectives on Human Language:
|loveLife: An Innovative Approach to AIDS Awareness|
Rocio Nohemi Cardenas
loveLife is an innovative organization using a youth-teaching youth model to curb the spread of AIDS in South Africa. The program was started in September of 1999 by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Along with other major corporate sponsors like Vodacom (cellular communications company), the South African government, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, loveLife has become a well-known, successful organization.
loveLife programming is carried out by a group of trained individuals known as "Groundbreakers." All Groundbreakers are between the ages of 18 and 25. Aside from the youth-teaching youth model, the age specification is used to offer employment opportunities to people unable to attend higher education. The Groundbreakers each specialize in one particular area whether it is debate, sports, or communication and each Groundbreaker offers workshops at the Y-Centers. Y-Centers are centers that offer local youth a place to interact with their peers while simultaneously participating in empowering activities. Along with the Y-Centers, there is the LoveTrain that visits rural areas in South Africa to educate people about AIDS and sexual health, LoveGames that allow youth to compete in various sports, and LoveTours which use radio to inform people about AIDS.
The programming of loveLife is definitely new to South Africa and as a result has received mixed feelings from South Africans. The youth is very supportive and open to the programming because it is youth-oriented. Some parents and older South Africans are often more skeptical of the openness with which sex and AIDS is talked about. The workshops discussing sexual health and AIDS start as early as the age of 12 making those skeptical of the program's message more apprehensive.
However, for the most part, South Africans are appreciative of the preventative approach undertaken by loveLife. The extra-curricular activities are also strongly supported by community members because they provide youth with the opportunity to develop new skills and a safe place to do so.
By far most of the funding for loveLife comes from non-South African sources. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have donated large sums of money to loveLife allowing for the amazing programming the organization carries out. The advertisements seen throughout the townships and the city are catchy and attractive. Also the extra-curricular programs offered through the Y-Centers have computer access, good equipment and trained staff.
Perhaps the most obvious explanation for the wide international support for loveLife is the need to stop the AIDS epidemic from spreading. South Africa has been of particular interest to outside donors because of the large number of infected South Africans and also because President Mbeki has made public statements denying the link between HIV and AIDS.
However, fortunately loveLife is not the only non-governmental organization combating the spread of AIDS in South Africa but it is arguably one of the most well funded. Another South African organization that seeks to combat AIDS is the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC). Started by a gay, Indian HIV positive activist, the TAC has sought to increase access to antiviral drugs. Many of the people who die as a result of AIDS in South Africa are poor and lack the money to pay for the extremely expensive antiviral medication. Although there is international support for the work of the TAC the level of political involvement and issues it raises about inequity in South Africa, and ethical questions behind production of drugs, make it a more controversial organization. Its existence has been especially difficult for the South African government, which is often a target of the TAC's campaigns.
Need for loveLife
loveLife as an organization has accomplished a great deal in terms of promoting sexual health and AIDS awareness at a young age. It has also been successful in helping this country stray away from keeping AIDS a taboo subject because it is increasing the exposure to AIDS information at a much younger age.
It is important to recognize that while this preventative approach is absolutely essential in eliminating the spread of AIDS, people are currently dying from this disease. Prevention does not address the millions of people already infected who need access to healthcare. Both the South African government and other nongovernmental organizations must be responsive to those infected.