Reaching Out: The AFT-Africa
In 2002, thanks to members’ generous contributions and a matching grant from the U.S. government, the AFT and the Zimbabwe Teachers Association (ZIMTA) formed a partnership to develop and implement an HIV/AIDS project, Teachers Caring for Teachers, that became a prototype for teacher unions throughout Africa. An AFT-produced video explains more about this innovative project here.
At the time, African teachers were receiving very little support despite growing evidence that AIDS is having a devastating impact on education. Indeed, in many African countries, teaching has the regrettable distinction of being the professional sector with the highest rate of infection.
HIV Infection Rates among South African Teachers
AIDS has overwhelmed educational systems with lengthy absences due to HIV-induced illnesses and, of course, astounding death tolls. Discrimination and isolation erode learning communities, and many schools have become little more than care centers for children orphaned by the pandemic.
However, the outlook in Africa is improving, thanks in part to the AFT-Africa AIDS project. In just seven years, the effort has generated more than $20 million and reached more than 750,000 teachers in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya.
AFT Partners in South Africa
In South Africa, an AFT partnership with the Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC), the Academy for Educational Development (AED) the South African Medical Association, and six teacher unions has been able to save teachers' lives by combining workplace education, HIV testing and counseling and AIDS treatment for those who need it. After the three-year pilot project, the U.S. government found the work so important that it granted a five-year extension to reach all teachers in the country.
South African teacher unions are providing life-saving peer education to members about the prevention of HIV and implementing anti-stigma and anti-discrimination programs in schools throughout the country. The unions also serve HIV-positive teachers by providing a confidential HIV/AIDS information hotline and free drug treatment for those who need it. HIV-positive teachers who are willing to disclose their status and participate in the project are recruited as AIDS ambassadors and role models for others who live in silence.
AFT Partners in Kenya
An equally effective program was developed through an AFT partnership with the 235,000-member Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT). Started in 2003 with contributions from AFT members and a U.S. government grant, the program enrolled more than 8,000 KNUT members in workplace peer education training, ultimately facilitating the implementation of policies that mitigated the impact of HIV/AIDS in more than 600 public schools.
In addition to focusing on prevention, care and treatment for teachers, the KNUT program also empowered educators and school administrators to transform schools by providing programs for AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children, supporting programs for HIV-positive teachers and learners and integrating HIV/AIDS education into the curriculum and extracurricular activities. The KNUT also launched a national campaign to implement workplace HIV/AIDS policies in the nation's 22,000 public schools and teacher training colleges.
Unfortunately, political violence in Kenya forced the AFT to suspend its work there in 2007.