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Alcohol gives you AIDS July 24, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Communication, Culture, Danger, Namibia, Ovitoto, Violence, VSO.

My intention of doing this alcohol awareness campaign wasn’t to tell the kids not to drink; it was to educate them on what alcohol is, how it effects you physically, socially and emotionally, and to open a discussion on how alcohol is used in their society and what the consequences of these activities are. The legal age to drink alcohol in Namibia is 18, same as back home, but having been an underage drinker myself, I know that kids start drinking at a young age, and that by telling them not to will just encourage them to go out and try it.

I used some of the excellent resources that the Portman Group and Drink Aware Trust produce to figure out ways to develop this workshop. But the reasons and situations of kids drinking alcohol in the UK differs hugely from why and how kids drink alcohol here in Namibia. After weeks of research on alcohol abuse, domestic abuse and HIV and rape statistics, I decided to scrap most of what I had found out and get the kids to tell me what they knew. They weren’t going to care about statistics, or understand about the function of the liver or how many units were in a bottle of beer. I had to go local, and so roped in Milly and Tjono for translation (and later proven, crowd control).

At 3pm last Tuesday, things were getting a bit hectic. Although I’d arrived at the village in good time, the kids had got wind that I had lots of coloured paper, stickers and, most importantly, balloons (kindly donated by the Namibian Breweries Ltd) and I couldn’t move an inch around the school without some half-pint jumping out, tugging my shirt and saying “Give me balloooooon.” Meanwhile, I was trying to fix up the banners and posters I had made, set up the flipchart stand, keep the kids out of the hall, and entertain the journalist and photographer from the national newspaper, The Namibian, who had arrived just at my least organised. And of course, the Grade 7 & 8s were mostly absent, and all the younger grades were stampeding to get into the hall and see what the balloons were for.

When enough Grade 7 & 8s arrived, we began. After a few good training sessions at VSO’s Harbourne Hall before departure, I knew a fair few ridiculous ice-breakers, but settled on the less embarrassing one. I was working with awkward teenagers after all! So I picked up a balloon, tossed it in the air, and whoever caught it had to say something they knew about alcohol….
“Alcohol is evil”….. “Alcohol makes you stupid”…. “Alcohol makes you rape people” …. “Alcohol gives you AIDS”.
Right, at least now I knew what I was dealing with.

We started with an Agree/Disagree activity, where the kids were told a statement and either stood on one side of the room if they agreed, or the other if they disagreed (thanks, Ant). “Drunk people have more fun”… “I drink alcohol because my friends drink”… and so on. At first, the kids were acting like model students, disapproving of drinking and seeming to think it was a stupid and dangerous thing to do. But as the afternoon wore on, the truth started to come out from a few of them, which I found a total relief. Up until that point, alcohol was being painted to be evil – which wasn’t the point of the exercise, – but then a few started admitting that they drink for fun, or because they are bored, or to experiment or just because they like it. Fair enough, that’s what I used to do.

We then got them to write on flip charts what the short and long term effects of drinking were, what were the social consequences and why people drink in the first place. A lot of their answers were linked to car accidents and unprotected sex and rape. I got some of them to explain their answers.

“Alcohol makes you want to fuck around so that you can get some ass. But then you can get AIDS if you pick the wrong girl.”

“You can get pregnant from drinking alcohol. Men, they rape you when they have been drinking and then you get a baby that you do not want.”

“If you have a car accident, you can get AIDS” (please explain that…) “because if you are bleeding, and your blood touches someone else’s, then you can get AIDS. But you might be dead anyway, so it doesn’t matter.”

I didn’t want to tell them that they were wrong or dictate the answers to them, but I did my utmost to correct the kids where I could – that you don’t “catch AIDS”, but put yourself at risk of becoming HIV positive, and that drinking alcohol doesn’t have to lead to “getting some ass”, and that it is important to use condoms whenever they have sex -but I don’t know how much of it went in. The answers they were giving were the realities of their lives. Boys fuck around. Girls get raped. No one uses condoms. People drink, drive and die.

So at the end of Day 1, I knew what knowledge base I was dealing with, and a few of the scenarios that the kids face. Kids were either totally for or against alcohol, much like the adults are. They learnt what alcohol is, what the effects are, what it can make you do, why people drink and about the different types of booze there are. And at least the conversation had been started.

Day 2, I went in to clear up the train wreck. The approach was Responsible and Respectful Drinking. Respect is a big thing over here, and the kids were keen to tell me what they thought respectful attitudes were: not raping people, not killing people, not stabbing people, not fighting with people. Good to know. The focus was to get them thinking about how to respect themselves. Getting so drunk that you can’t walk, that you vomit on a friend or punch a wall is not respectful behaviour, for yourselves or towards others. We got them to write down why people choose not to drink, what activities you could do instead of drink alcohol and how alcohol would hinder you doing these activities, such as study, play sport or help around the house. Violence was still coming out as a key theme, so we went and did the Agree/Disagree activity again.

“It is ok to hit someone”, Milly announced in Otjiherero (I realised early on that my English just wasn’t working).

The group split in half. A disagree kid said that hitting someone is disrespectful. An agree kid said that if someone hits or hurts or disrespects you, then it is fine to hit them back.

“It is ok for a man to hit his wife”.

Almost all the boys and a few girls moved to the Agree side, leaving a cluster of headstrong girls on the Disagree side.

I ask a boy to explain his choice. “A man needs to keep his women in her place. If he doesn’t hit her, then she will get out of hand.” Most of the kids nodded in agreement. I felt very out of my depth.

“What about respect? Wouldn’t it be more respectful for them to discuss the issues instead of hitting each other?”, I venture.

“No, some women are stupid and only understand when they are hit. Like dogs.” More nodding, even from the girls.

For a few minutes, I witter on about equality and respect, but as their eye glassed over, I knew I was defeated, and moved onto the next question.

By the end of Day 2, we had many honest answers coming out and even some positivity. They seemed to understand that alcohol can be enjoyed in moderation. They really latched onto the issue of respecting yourself to make your own choices. And they really seemed to understand from experience that drinking alcohol at their age (14-16 years) can ruin their studies and risk their chances of getting a good job. There were still some grey areas and confusion about gender equality, the difference between HIV and AIDS and self-respect, but I think a little of it at least was down to the language barrier. Importantly, the kids were talking about these issues amongst themselves, working out where they stood on the matter, and discussing the consequences of alcohol.

Day 3 was the most telling however. It was poster day. I’d bought lots of coloured paper, pens, glue and scissors and set them forth to make team posters on alcohol awareness to put up around the school. There’s no better way to advocate to a group than to get the group to produce the material. Or so I thought. Some of the girls got more carried away with cutting out hearts and drawing flowers, whilst the boys set about drawing very graphic car crash, fighting and rape scenes. But at least all the posters had some information on alcohol awareness, many of the ideas taken from the flipcharts that they had written on during the workshop.

As I drove home from the village on Thursday night with Milly, I asked her how it went.
“It was great. Much better than I thought it would, and I always thought it would be good. The kids, they really learnt so much, I can tell. And the teachers want to know how you got them so interested and active. I really think it will make a difference and that some of them will think before they drink in future”.

And I agree. It went bloody well. The first activity that I have done since I arrived that actually went smoothly. I am feeling very good about it all and happy with myself. After 10 months, I finally did something that didn’t go fubar. And this is just the start. I’m going to push forward with this campaign for others to adopt.

It’ll be in the national paper today. I’ll keep you posted.

PS: I apologise if the language in this blog causes any offence, but I am using direct quotes.



1. Heather A. - July 24, 2007

Congratulations! That’s fabulous! Maybe you should work with teenagers all the time. (Better you than me!) Such an important issue, too. Great work!

2. Libby - July 25, 2007

Hi I’ve been reading your blog for a little while and I enjoy it a lot. I did an intense three months (not so much I realize :)) of volunteering in Namibia a few years ago and a lot of the time I miss it a lot. I’m glad to hear that you did this workshop and that it went well. Best of luck with your continued efforts; I hope it will make a difference, as I know there’s such a need.

3. vicky - February 25, 2008

its wonderful i mean the message is realy educating.

4. Ndeshy - February 25, 2008

i wish everyone gotta read this coz its just so intersting

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