| Peace Corps' rededication to youth: Addressing the needs of youth-at-risk |
Giselle had trouble in school. She was a rebellious twelve year-old who was caught stealing. In addition, she was sleeping around with boys and men who paid her school fees. These activities brought shame to her family and punishment and condemnation to Giselle. She refused to heed her parents admonitions and rather than go home to face the family's harsh treatment and constant badgering, she began staying out all night with friends on the streets. The longer she stayed away, the greater became her fear of going home to face her family.
Forced to fend for herself, Giselle bartered sex for food, clothing, money and other basic necessities of life. She became more independent and began going dancing and making a living sleeping with the men she met at the bars. As 13, she contracted AIDS and by 15 she was seriously ill Her family soot her in during the last few months of her young life, knowing she was very ill, but unaware she had AlDS. A local doctor gave her as much comfort as possible during the final months of her life.
Three years ago Juan ran away from home at the age of nine. He had become very unhappy and bitter when his father died This led to poor academic performance and misbehavior in school. His mother tried so provide the necessary discipline and direction he needed, but because she worked ten hours a day in a laundry, she had little time or energy to spend with Juan and his five brothers and sisters.
He was sent to live briefly with his aunt and uncle, but began skipping school and running with friends on the street during the day. His uncle beat him and eventually sent him back to his mother. Finally, Juan left home and spent all his time o the streets, working at odd jobs tine selling candy and shining shoes.
He trusted his best friends and tried to sleep close to them night in front of the police station. But being so young, it was easy for older boys to lake advantage of trim and force him to have sex with them. The longer he was on the street, the more common sex became among the street boys and girls.
Most of the time Juan was hungry because the work the found was not enough to buy much food To dull the hunger pains, he began sniffing glue and gasoline. Wanting more money, he occasionally supplemented his small income by homosexual pick-ups with order men. He didn't like doing this, but it was better than being hungry. Nobody ever toad him about the dangers these activities would pose to his life.
Street children and other children in difficult circumstances are particularly vulnerable to contracting the HIV virus and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) due to their proximity to and activity with other high-risk adult populations. Street life exposes them to sexual exploitation, prostitution and/or sexual abuse by older street youth and adults who may be carrying the HIV virus or other STDs. This is particularly true of street girls who often make their living as prostitutes. Heterosexual and homosexual activity among street children is common. Drug, alcohol and other substance abuse frequently increases their susceptibility to sexual activity and abuse.
DISCUSSION OF THE PROBLEM
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are 8 million people infected with the HIV virus in the world today, over 5 million in Africa alone. By the year 2000, experts predict there will be 40 million people infected, 80 percent in the developing world. Moreover, 10 million children will become orphans from parents who have died from AIDS. Most of those orphans will be in the developing world and it is likely that a large percentage of them will end up as street children as well.
In some countries in Latin America and Africa, the rate of AIDS infection among the adult population is over 30 percent There are no reliable statistics on the prevalence of AIDS among street children, but given their exposure to high risk populations, it can be assumed that rates of infection may now be as high in some countries and will increase rapidly IA the future. This is particularly true among street girls who are involved in "survival sex" where they have little control over whether the partner uses a condom or not This exposure also subjects them to other STDs, which IA some developing countries is as great a threat-if not greater-to their health than is AIDS.
Street children are among the most neglected and abused groups in any community. They have little or no access to community clinics, hospitals, schools or other public services, television or written materials and therefore few opportunities to be educated about AIDS, its transmission and methods of prevention. Word of mouth is the strongest communicator among street children and there are few positive street informants accurately describing the dangers of AIDS and how it can be prevented.
Street children are at an impressionable age when behavior patterns are being established and can still be changed. It is therefore important that they understand the types of behavior that will protect them so that they can make intelligent and lifesaving decisions.
PEACE CORPS INVOLVEMENT
Contacts For Possible Collaboration
The National AIDS Committee located in the Ministry of Health has primary responsibility for coordinating AIDS activities, including developing and implementing the country's AIDS prevention plan.
WHO lends technical assistance to National AIDS Committee activities in most countries. UNICEF collaborates closely at various levels with WHO, National AIDS Committees and NGOs working with AIDS programs. Many international, non-governmental organizations (e.g. Save the Children, Plan International, Concern, Street Kids International) or local organizations have plans for or are already working in AIDS-related programs.
Several international organizations such as Population Services International and The Futures Group are collaborating with host country governments in social marketing programs that sell products such as condoms through the commercial private sector at subsidized prices. Government donors such as USAID (the largess bilateral donor to AIDS programs) support many of the above mentioned projects.
Possible Project Activities
Assist an organization in conducting qualitative and quantitative research that surveys the knowledge, attitudes and practices of children-at-risk and developing strategies to best address their needs.
Train street children to be peer educators (AIDS experts say peer education is the most effective means of influencing behavior).
Assist local health committees, regional health offices or ministry officials to include street children in AIDS education plans and existing programs.
Link existing NGO AIDS projects with street children.
Develop/adapt and distribute AIDS materials to street children.
Train local NGO staff or counterparts to be street educators in AIDS education.
Develop puppet and/or street theater programs to educate children (as is being done by the Africa Research Education Puppetry Program in South Africa).
Show AIDS education films and videos (such as those designed especially for street children like the cartoon Karate Kid produced by Street Kids International which has accompanying manual and comic books) from mobile vans or at the local cinema or community center.
Target AIDS education to schools where dropout rates are high, rural and urban, that may be the source of future street children.
Develop counseling and care programs for street children with AIDS.