The Status of the HIV Programme in the Ministry of Education in Dominica

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By Thomas John Holmes
The HIV & AIDS Programme in the Ministry of Education (MOE) in Dominica has been developing gradually, since 2008, with some level of consistency as a consequence of collaborative work with the National HIV and AIDS Response Programme (NHARP) and EDC & UNESCO through training workshops and meetings. The main aim of the MOE HIV & AIDS Programme is to engage in and out of school youths and equip them with relevant life skills that will help them make the right decisions in the prevention of HIV.

A peer counselling training group
Photo by Thomas John Holmes

The MOE approach to the prevention of HIV involves early childhood, primary/elementary schools, secondary schools, and out of school youths and parents. It is incorporated in the school curriculum, particularly in the Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) Programme, and other related student based programmes.

The MOE Focal Point and the NHARP Unit have been collaborating to develop and implement HIV sensitization sessions for students of Grade Six of the primary/elementary level and Form One of the secondary level to educate them on the issue of HIV and AIDS. These students are informed of basic sexual education facts about the human sexual parts and why these should be respected. These sessions also help the students to enhance their self-esteem and develop self-worth.

Further, the schools’ Peer Counselling Programme has been expanded to include an HIV component to equip prospective peer counsellors with facts on HIV prevention methods and the prevalence of the HIV epidemic among the youth. The young people are provided with meaningful information to assist them during counselling intervention with their peers who seek a caring friend and a listening ear. These students are also equipped with other relevant life skills that aid in making the right decisions when they are faced with life challenges.

Youth attending Camp Rescue life-skill session
Photo by Thomas John Holmes

The MOE HIV Programme has been incorporated in Camp Rescue, a skill-oriented school/ community-based programme with links to the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Youth Affairs, which included an HIV component in its schedule. Camp Rescue is organised by voluntary citizens who are concerned about societal negative influences on youth ages 13 to 17. The participants are provided with relevant life skills intended to help them realize their responsibilities and be accountable for their actions, particularly in matters related to healthy lifestyles and HIV prevention and treatment. They are informed how to protect themselves and their loved ones, prevent the abuse of others, and collaborate to avoid the escalation of HIV infections. The youths at Camp Rescue are constantly challenged and engaged in anti-social behaviour that affect their academic, personal, social and spiritual development and sometimes they appear before the court and are regrettably incarcerated at the State Prisons.

The MOE HIV Programme has been incorporated in Camp Rescue, a skill-oriented school/community-based programme with links to the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Youth Affairs, which included an HIV component in its schedule. Camp Rescue is organised by voluntary citizens who are concerned about societal negative influences on youth ages 13 to 17. The participants are provided with relevant life skills intended to help them realize their responsibilities and be accountable for their actions, particularly in matters related to healthy lifestyles and HIV prevention and treatment. They are informed how to protect themselves and their loved ones, prevent the abuse of others, and collaborate to avoid the escalation of HIV infections. The youths at Camp Rescue are constantly challenged and engaged in anti-social behaviour that affect their academic, personal, social and spiritual development and sometimes they appear before the court and are regrettably incarcerated at the State Prisons.

In a recent Camp Rescue Programme some of the participants were sceptical about sharing while others were very vocal. Scepticism centred around their ignorance of facts on HIV coupled with their questionable lifestyle and HIV status of few friends and relatives. At the end of the session a participant noted: “I had to come to Camp Rescue for me to learn so much and for me not to be afraid of AIDS.” Another one said: “Young people must really try hard to prevent AIDS among us.” The mentees were genuinely concerned about their sexual health status and their general response indicated the need for continued HIV education for young people.

Another aspect of the MOE HIV Programme relates to teacher training. Many teachers, particularly pastoral care coordinators who assist guidance counsellors, receive periodic training to assist them in acquiring knowledge on HIV prevention and treatment. An important component of the training provides teachers with relevant life skills, particularly decision making. The Wildfire Simulation experience is a critical activity that helps teachers realize their responsibility and care for others, especially the students who are infected or affected by HIV.

The third aspect of the MOE HIV Programme is the annual parenting programme that engages parents in meaningful discussions on the issue of HIV and AIDS in the family. The parents are also equipped with appropriate skills. It has been realised and acknowledged that parents play a pivotal role in the development of their children and as a consequence they must be provided with relevant skills, particularly listening skills. Parents utilise these life skills to help them cope with their own health issues and their children’s life situations, including difficult and/or challenging sexual health issues. Many parents express great interest in acquiring relevant information on HIV and AIDS since many believe that the children are more advanced than them in getting the information though at times the information may not be the most appropriate for the children.

Parenting programme closing ceremony
Photo by Thomas John Holmes

Many parents expressed their appreciation for the knowledge made available to them during the parenting sessions. Comments during verbal and written evaluations included: “Now, my fears are not as high as before when I did not know all this about HIV and AIDS,” “The school authorities must try their best to reach out to more parents to give them all this information on HIV,” and “I must start to talk to my child about HIV and sex.”

Recently, Mr. Nicholas Golberg and I, Thomas Holmes, from the MOE and Ms. Curvelle David from the NHARP attended a Stakeholder Workshop to Outline a Generic Monitoring and Evaluation Framework and Capacity Building Tool in support of a Comprehensive Education Sector Response to HIV and AIDS. This workshop educated us on the importance of having this framework within the MOE. The Workshop augmented our interest in initiating activities in the MOE to assist in the prevention and treatment of HIV in the Education Sector and meaningfully monitor and evaluate their progress.

A major consequence of the Workshop was the engagement of the Minister for Education in present and proposed activities of the MOE HIV Programme. He expressed his appreciation for the work being done and committed his Ministry’s continued support.

The Next Level/The Way Forward

The MOE Focal Point will continue to collaborate with the National HIV and AIDS Response Programme and other MOE officials to organise and implement programmes to sensitise teachers, students and parents and provide them with updated information through workshops, meetings and other significant activities. Proposed activities for the academic year 2010-2011 include the following:

  • Sensitise MOE officials, principals and teachers on the HIV and AIDS Monitoring and Evaluation for the Education Sector and solicit their input
  • Review the MOE’s Work Place Policy
  • Collaborate with coordinators of youth groups and clubs to inform and educate members on the incidence of HIV and discuss ways to prevent HIV from spreading among the youthful population
  • Engage students in poster, poetry and essay competitions that depict the HIV situation
  • Incorporate HIV sessions within existing programmes, particularly the Cadet Corps, Character Counts! value-oriented programme and student councils at the primary and secondary school levels
  • Involve the students and out of school youths in media presentations (Radio talk shows, newspapers and television programmes) through the various in and out of school programmes including Peer Counselling, Student Councils and Camp Rescue.
  • Collaborate with the National HIV and AIDS Response Programme and other significant stakeholders to organise island wide activities for in and out of school youths on World AIDS Day in December 2010
  • Engage the Minister, Permanent Secretary, officers and other stakeholders in the MOE in developing and implementing the MOE HIV Strategic Plan and MOE HIV Monitoring and Evaluation Framework.

We anticipate that the collaborative efforts of all significant groups will make a difference in the lives of young people as they will receive relevant information to help them make the right decisions and curtail the spread of HIV.

Thomas John Holmes
Guidance Counsellor
Executive Chair, EduCan
Camp Rescue Executive
Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development
EST Building
Cornwall Street
Roseau
Commonwealth of Dominica
W: 1-767-266-5591 H: 1-767-448-8008
Cell: 1-767-613-2076//1-767-275-6217
E-mail: hthomas54@hotmail.com