Rwandan Minister of State Nyaruhirira (left),
U.S. President Bush and First Lady Laura
Bush enjoy a sketch performance put on by
members of a school anti-AIDS club.
KIGALI, Rwanda, February 19, 2008 — President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush visited a PSI program supported by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) at a secondary school here today. The program, ABAJENE!, uses a mix of innovative media and communication strategies to engage young Rwandans in a nationwide youth movement that promotes healthy lifestyles and strengthens their life skills and ability to adopt safer sexual behaviors. Under strong leadership from the Rwandan National AIDS Commission (CNLS, in French) covers 14 out of 30 school districts in Rwanda.
Accompanied by Dr. Innocent Nyaruhirira, the Rwandan minister of state in charge of HIV/AIDS and other epidemics, and Dr. Agnès Binagwaho, executive secretary of the CNLS, President and Mrs. Bush participated in a discussion with a small group of parents and students who had completed a five-week training course on parent-child communication. They also met with the students from the Anti-AIDS Club to learn more about their activities and watch a skit performed by the club.
Dr. Agnès Binagwaho (seated at right), executive
secretary of the CNLS, enjoys a skit with the
President and First Lady.
ABAJENE! was launched in 2004 with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development. Since October 2005, it has been funded by PEPFAR through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
President Bush asked parents and students to tell him about the parent-child communication program and how the PEPFAR-funded PSI activities have impacted their lives. The parents explained to the president how the five-week training program has helped them speak openly with their children and provide them with correct information about HIV/AIDS.
One parent, Doreen, said: “The earlier we speak to our children about HIV/AIDS and reproductive health, the better. This way, we can avoid regretting and saying ‘had I just known…’ one day. If we wait too long, they will just receive false information from their friends and they will get into problems. If we speak to them early enough, we can help them avoid those problems and save them from HIV/AIDS. So it is not true that speaking to your children about sexuality at an early age leads them into sexual promiscuity, as most Rwandan parents used to think.”
President Bush speaks with
students after the performance.
The students also testified that the program has helped them become closer to their parents and taught them to feel at ease asking sensitive questions. “During the training, I came to know that my mom is in fact my best friend and that she can give me correct information,” said Christine, 17. “I also learned how to make a decision about my life and my future goals.”
President Bush engaged in a discussion with the Anti-AIDS Club about their work to inform other students and their younger siblings about HIV/AIDS and the risks young Rwandans face today. When the President asked the Anti-AIDS Club at what age they think young people should start receiving information about HIV/AIDS, they answered that even young children need and have the right to be informed.
“We start speaking with our brothers and sisters already at age 9-10, because that’s when adolescence starts,” said Justus, 17. “Of course the information we give them about HIV/AIDS is adapted to their young age.”
On Feb. 26, the president recalled the Rwanda visit at the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation in Washington, D.C.: “Our final stop in Rwanda was a hillside school that is supported by PEPFAR … We met with a lot of students and their parents… The students told me about their ambitious projects, which include teaching abstinence and providing HIV/AIDS testing and counseling. Abstinence may be controversial in the halls of Congress; it is not controversial on this campus. As a matter of fact, they put a skit on for us. In it, a girl is approached by a rich man, who offers her gifts in exchange for sex. She calls it a ‘ridiculous’ proposition and says, ‘I’m not that kind of girl.’”
President Bush recounted a new spirit in Africa: “In Rwanda, a school teacher was discussing the fight to eradicate malaria and AIDS with her class. And she explained her attitude this way: ‘It can happen here.’ With those words, she summed up the new spirit of Africa: confident and determined and strong.”
Nearly every secondary school and most youth centers have an active Anti-AIDS club in Rwanda. A key component of the ABAJENE! program is to strengthen the capacity of these Anti-AIDS Clubs to conduct outreach peer education among students and out-of-school youth to sensitize them about HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections.
PSI/Rwanda provides on-going training in HIV/AIDS, reproductive health and interpersonal communication techniques to the Anti-AIDS Clubs in sixty secondary schools. The Anti-AIDS Clubs use theater, group and one-to-one discussions and inter-school competitions to reach students with HIV/AIDS and life skills messages. Mass media communications — including a weekly call-in radio show, a youth magazine, billboards and mobile video shows — support the outreach activities and ensure national coverage of campaign messages.
Dr. Binagwaho was thrilled with the visit. “The visit at Lycée de Kigali was a true success for Rwanda. The President and Mrs. Bush had a profound and extremely interesting discussion with the parents and children about the cultural barriers related to parent-child communication about HIV/AIDS and sexuality. The President recognized that open communication between parents and children about sexuality is a universal problem shared by most parents. He even shared his personal experience in speaking with his own daughters about these subjects.”