July 25, 2011
South African and U.S. Students Launch AIDS Prevention Project
In Cape Town, AFT President Randi Weingarten Says the International Effort
Illustrates How Schools Are Part of the Life of the Communities They Serve
CAPE TOWN, South Africa—American and South African high school students came together here today with their teachers and principals to launch a new HIV/AIDS prevention project that will link Cape Town teenagers with their counterparts in Southern California.
In the project backed by the American Federation of Teachers, students from Manenberg High School in Cape Town and from Artesia High School in the ABC School District in Los Angeles County, Calif., will use the Internet and Web-based interactive technology to exchange information about the impact of HIV/AIDS in their respective communities.
“Our ability to come together across oceans and continents for this important effort illustrates once again a key fact about our schools: Education is so much more than math, science and reading,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said during ceremonies this morning at Manenberg High School marking the official launch of the project. “Schools are also part of the life of the communities they serve.”
The information that the students gather and exchange will help them understand the infected population in their communities. As a result, they and their teachers will be better able to advocate for HIV testing, promote abstinence and condom use, and support the families and orphans of AIDS victims.
The AFT has been active in AIDS prevention efforts in South Africa for more than a decade. Laura Rico, past president of the ABC Federation of Teachers in Southern California, helped make the Artesia/Manenberg project a reality. She and Weingarten both participated in the project launch in Cape Town, where they also attended the Educational International World Congress.
The AIDS epidemic has had a devastating impact in South Africa. In its mid-2010 statistical report, the government estimated that 5.24 million people—more than 10 percent of the population—were living with HIV. That report showed that AIDS has accounted for more than 40 percent of all deaths in South Africa every year since 2002.
In 2010, the South African government estimated there were 410,000 new HIV infections—40,000 of them among children. One response has been the South Africa Department of Basic Education’s new HIV/AIDS strategy that puts students and others in the school system at the center of efforts to achieve the next HIV-free generation.
“In this project, our focus is on preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS,” Weingarten said. “But the skills that it teaches—the ability to access information, to gain knowledge and, through critical thinking, to use that information to solve problems—will serve our students throughout their lives whether they are here in Cape Town, or Lakewood, Calif., or wherever they find themselves as they move through life.”
Others who took part in the launch of the project today included Manenberg High School principal Thurston Brown, Artesia High School principal Sergio Garcia, and Thobile Ntola, president of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union.
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The AFT represents 1.5 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.