Southern Africa Alumnae Partners with Soweto YMCA to Promote HIV/AIDS Awareness

Submitted by SAAC IAI Committee Co-chairs Debra Townes and Nomhle Canca

On Jan. 27, members of the Southern Africa Alumnae Chapter (SAAC) partnered with YMCA Soweto for a workshop on HIV/AIDS awareness. Soweto, a township of Johannesburg, has a considerable youth population of 35% (defined as those between the ages of 15-24) and an unemployment rate of 55%. Additionally, this YMCA branch was home to the famous boxing gym frequented by Nelson Mandela and also a meeting place for the South African Student’s Movement, which led to the June 1976 Soweto Uprising. YMCA Soweto Coordinator Portia Tshepe expressed her excitement about working with SAAC for this World AIDS Day event and cementing a partnership to continue serving the Soweto community.

Approximately 40 residents, aged 18 to 50, attended this event, with an equal number of men and women participating in the workshop and discussion. Guest speakers included SAAC Soror and public health expert Ghairunisa Galeta and Nellisiwe Chizuni Washington, an HIV/AIDS specialist from the local NGO “Shout it Now.” Soror Galeta presented global statistics and asked participants to examine how factors such as the growing youth bulge and youth unemployment are serving as drivers of new HIV/AIDS infections. Mrs. Washington provided information about local activities and resources that reach specific community members for testing and treatment and to promote behavior change. 

Before and after the event, participants took a survey to assess their knowledge of HIV/AIDS and their personal status. Survey results indicated that while only 45% of the participants reported knowing their HIV status, 75% said they would get tested for HIV as a result of our awareness program. During a Q&A session, audience members provided thought-provoking questions and engaged with each other and the facilitators. Several participants said the workshop should be expanded to include a larger audience in the Soweto community, including younger children (at their introduction to sexual health and practices), parents, and caregivers who need to be aware of the updated resources available. SAAC members also provided first aid kits filled with bandages, hand sanitizer wipes, red ribbon tattoos, and male and female condoms. 

Under the World AIDS Day 2023 theme, “Let Communities Lead,” SAAC jointly hosted this outreach event to promote the importance of HIV/AIDS awareness messaging to youth populations and further efforts in our regional service area to reduce new infections and support the end of the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030. 

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