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Chapter 1: Who am I?

I am young. I have dreams for the future, dreams of the person I’d like to become, of the person I’d like to meet. Things that worry me, things that excite me. I try to live my life the best I can, though I make mistakes, just like anyone else. AM I THEN THE SORT OF PERSON WHO CAN GET AIDS?

Seems so. Anyone can. And there is no cure.
(When you think about it, though we are all from different parts of the world and different families and religions, we are almost all identical in the way we are made up. We have similar dreams – of a long, happy, healthy life, a special person to share it with – and similar fears. We can all be susceptible to the same illnesses, including contracting HIV and AIDS. We are all susceptible to not making informed choices, and we are susceptible to the ills of ignorance, fear, stigma, and discrimination. Information, care, respect and love are the best things to empower young people and reduce their susceptibility. So that we can live out our fantasies, reach our targets and be at peace with ourselves and our world.)

i. Just think about it:
The problem is, when it comes to HIV and AIDS, prevention is the ONLY cure. And since forewarned is forearmed, the best thing you can do is to find out as much about it as possible, and learn to outsmart the enemy. See it as a war. It’s us – all of us – against them: the HIV virus, and the AIDS disease. So here’s the strategy, here’s what YOU can do:

• Be aware: The statistics tell it all: 5 people are dying of AIDS every minute; even in developed, Western countries, more people are HIV-infected than ever before. So, it’s clear that this is not a threat that only hits certain parts of the world or certain groups of people. Know how it works, what causes it – that’s how you can know how to stop it. Check out these pages to find out more:
www.areyouhivprejudiced.org/facts/: “HIV – Facts and Stats”
www.lovelife.org.za/kids/search/results_final.php?newsarticle=354: “Loving your life” – this article explains that “it’s your life we’re talking about”, giving you facts on the disease, the risks, where you rate on the “risk scale”, how the virus and disease affects your body, and what you can do to prevent it.
Take a look at this personal testimony from a girl who found out AIDS was not just something in the newspapers that did not affect her:
www.scarleteen.com/relationships/notfaceless.html : “Not a faceless disease – a reader’s story of a friend with AIDS”

• Be responsible – for my sake and for others... because if AIDS is incurable, HIV infection is preventable. See www.lovelife.org.za/kids/search/results_final.php?newsarticle=354 on how to take control of your life and avoid getting HIV, plus how – if you ARE infected – you have the responsibility not to spread it to anyone else.

• Get involved – fight prejudice and ignorance. YOU can help stop the spreading of HIV/AIDS, help change attitudes that don’t help, and reach out to those already affected...
See www.staying-alive.org/en/do_something.jhtml - “do something” - on how to become a peer educator (“you don’t have to take over the world to help prevent HIV & AIDS – just talk to your friends, others your age and anyone who will listen…”), fight stigma, sign a petition, volunteer…
Read how two high-school girls became AIDS hotline volunteers at http://www.hostos.cuny.edu/homepages/lesnick/aids/page23.htm - “the saddest phone calls come from people who’ve just discovered they’ve got AIDS”, 15-year-old Meredith says.

Imagine:
• The portrait of a potential HIV/AIDS victim: it could be a face in the street, it could be a kid in your class, it could be you.
• A healthy young person’s dreams for the future. Now imagine how these would change if that person found out they had only a short while left to live.
• And if that person were you, how could you still live your life to the fullest?
• Imagine yourself as a resistance fighter… in the struggle against HIV/AIDS.

ii. I’ve got attitude :
It’s all very well to know the hard, nitty-gritty facts, but HIV & AIDS, and the prevention of it, all seem very much mixed up with ethical issues, things like:

Values and attitudes
Rights and duties
In short, morals.

Sounds very abstract, doesn’t it?

But in fact, it has everything to do with my relationships with others – and, let’s call it by it’s name, with SEX. What values do I consider import in my personal and sexual relationships? What is my attitude towards sex in a relationship, and towards my AND the other person’s feelings, needs and demands? What are my rights when it comes to sex, love and relationships, and do I also have duties towards the other person?

More on this later (see Chapter 3, “Others and me”), but in the mean time, to get you thinking, just

ask yourself:

Where do these morals and values come from? Did someone make them up? Usually, they’re a product of:

* your cultural background (your community’s values, your religion, customs…)
* your family background (parents’ ideas, etc.)
* friends’ and peers’ values and ideas
* your own healthy, common sense

You’ll agree that the sum total of these can differ tremendously from one person to the next. However, when it comes to our rights, most of us seem to agree on certain basic points:

We want to be treated equally, we want to be loved and we want to love. We want to do that with the security that we will remain healthy, make informed life decisions, respect and understand our bodies and have access to youth-friendly health services. We want access to the correct and appropriate information and we want respect

It’s not always easy to find someone to talk to about these things. But it’s good to know that others have the same questions you have… See for instance what teenagers have to say about abusive relationships: www.lovelife.org.za/kids/index.html (attitude…) (click on “Love facts”), and go to www.sxetc.org to see that parents could sometimes be a bigger help than you think…

Now imagine:
• a situation where two people, each with a totally different set of values, fall in love…
• cases where your own values could differ from those of your community, family or friends…

iii. My body: understanding it, and caring for it... :
Your body – it’s precious, it’s yours – care for it!

When you’re talking about stuff like relationships, sex and disease, you obviously also have to talk about your body… The body you thought you knew – or maybe didn’t even give much thought to at all – and that is now suddenly changing quite a bit. And it’s all very well to have moral values and opinions about attitude, but sometimes your body seems to have ideas and a will of its own…

These are some of the questions you might be asking yourself:

• How does my body work? (check out www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody)
• And my mind? (do the test “What sex is your brain” on www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody - you’ll be surprised at the results!)
• What’s puberty? How is different for boys’ and girls’ bodies? (go to www.iwannaknow.org/puberty/index.html, and click on Physical changes, Emotional changes, Puberty for boys, Puberty for girls…; read more about puberty (breasts, erections, growth spurt, voice breaking…) at http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/body/index.shtml?lifecycle )
• What are hormones and puberty and how do they affect the way my body and I react? (Check out www.iwannaknow.org/puberty/index.html, they’ve got a whole “Puberty beginner’s guide”)
• Am I normal? (type “hormones” in the search function on www.lovelife.org.za/kids/index.html and find out!)
• What about sex? (www.itsyoursexlife.com…: “Whether you're currently having sex with someone or not, you probably have lots of questions — about contraception, disease, and other intimate topics. Fortunately, we have some answers…”; also see some of the prickly but real questions submitted by teenagers on www.tarsc.org/auntstella/html/questions.htm)
• How can I keep my body healthy? (www.sxtec.org - click on “Girls’ health” or “Guys health” for some direct, intelligent discussions by teens, for teens)
• They say HIV and AIDS affect the immune system – so what is this immune system, and how do I keep it going? (the full facts on http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/immune/, and a simple but factual explanation on http://www.biorap.org/br4immune.html)

Imagine:
• a positive body image – or “loving my own body”
• some of the self-destructive things we do to our bodies

Available resources for this topic (some samples):



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