U.S., HIFA Partnership Gives Harare Street Youth a Healthy Treat

Part of the 75-strong youth that attended the training
Part of the 75-strong youth that attended the training

About 75 street youth associated with the House of Smiles received an early health treat at the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) after receiving a training session on HIV and AIDS from three health organizations, International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH), Population Services International (PSI), and RTI/Gender Challenge Initiative last Thursday. The youth, who  work as parking attendants at HIFA this week, also enjoyed dance from Barefoot Theatre , a Zambian group of former street youth who will perform at HIFA, and a performance by Zimbabwe’s own Ba Shupi.

With support from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and more than 10 local partners of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC-Zimbabwe), the U.S.- HIFA partnership is working to disseminate health information and link the public to health services during the Festival.

“The main objectives of the training are to equip street youth with knowledge and information on problems of sexual exploitation, prevention of HIV/AIDS, unwanted pregnancies and treatment of sexually-transmitted infections,” said Fortunate Machingura of RTI.

The training included interactive discussions by facilitators including Oliver Vembo from PSI and Lewis Masimba from I-TECH.  Masimba lamented how youth blow the money they earn on reckless practices like buying alcohol or paying for sex, and encouraged them to use their earnings to take care of themselves and their families.

The facilitators taught the group the proper way to use condoms, what to do if abused, and where to access free HIV testing and counseling as well as free male circumcision.

Popular musician Ba Shupi provided the entertainment, but before his performance he shared words of encouragement about how he had moved away from street life. “Most of you may not know this, but I also lived in the streets for three months. I moved away from that and I know that you can as well,” he said.

This outreach was part of a larger PEPFAR sponsorship of HIFA’s First Street Stage, a free stage at First Street and Silundika from Tuesday, April 29 through Saturday, May 3 during HIFA.  “We are connecting health and the arts as we work to reach at-risk populations and connect people to health services,” explained Megan Petersen, PEPFAR Coordinator at the United States Embassy.

At the PEPFAR First Street Stage shows are free  during the duration of the HIFA festival. The public will enjoy music and culture and at the same time feel switched on about their health, and switched on to take responsibility and make healthy choices supported by on-site access to information about HIV and AIDS treatment, prevention and services, including HIV testing and counseling.

Members of a group called Barefoot Theatre from Zambia also attended the training. The group consists of former street youths, who used dance and theatre to get away from street life and create better lives for themselves.  One of the Zambian youth, Bernard Kaumba, shared with his Zimbabwean counterparts how he has been able to travel the world through dance and theatre and encouraged his counterparts in Zimbabwe to use HIFA as an opportunity to get out of whatever difficult situations they are in now.  “Since 2006 we (Barefoot Theatre) have been able to travel around Africa and overseas to London through dance…you can get out of this situation, I did it,” Kaumba said.

In Zimbabwe, PEPFAR has committed $95 million in 2013 and again in 2014, and the initiative supports the Government of Zimbabwe’s National response to HIV and AIDS to by providing high-impact prevention, care, and treatment interventions.  PEPFAR has partnered with the following organizations for HIFA 2014, all of which will have a presence on First Street to encourage public awareness and use of a variety of health related services: Africaid, International Training and Education Centre for Health (ITECH), Jibilika Dance Trust, National Blood Services Zimbabwe, Organization for Public Health International and Development (OPHID), Population Services International, Population Services Zimbabwe, Research Triangle Institute (RTI), Tag A Life International, and World Education International. – ZimPAS © April 29, 2014