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+263912278004Students Aids Action Forum (SAAF) was formed after the realisation that a tragedy was unravelling in Zimbabwe as college and university students were being infected and affected by HIV/AIDS in secret silence. What was heart rendering was the fact that no one seemed to care or take notice. While other sections of society were getting recognition and preferential treatment as needy groups, and were receiving targeted support and assistance from an array of organisations, tertiary students were being left out.
At best, tertiary institutions had half hearted cosmetic advocacy prevention programmes whose real material assistance was the distribution of condoms and pamphlets with prevention literature. When you look at the complexity of factors that encourage transmission of the virus and the needed diverse and multi-faceted intervention methods that are required to deal with the HIV/AIDS pandemic which range from political to socio-economic, mere condom distribution was at best desperately inadequate.
While other groups like commercial sex workers, truck drivers, HIV/AIDS widows, migrant workers and under age orphans are receiving targeted help and support in form of preventative advocacy, Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT), treatment, food supplements and in other cases material support to embark on income generating projects to alleviate or to eradicate poverty in their communities so as to create socio economic based sustainable behaviour change, students have been totally left out in the cold.
The tradition partners in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa and world wide such as international Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and other international agencies and organisations seem to have failed to identify this group and mobilize resources to mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS or to advocate for national policies which deal specifically with tertiary students visa veer the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Zimbabwe.
This is despite the fact that this group of young citizens is the bedrock of future socio-economic development of the nation and HIV/AIDS has become a major development crisis which has to be looked at in a developmental context. This neglect of tertiary students is mind bogging when considering that globally, half of all the new infections are occurring among young people and in Zimbabwe, approximately 12 % of people between the ages of 20 and 24 are living with HIV/AIDS (This group constitutes the majority of tertiary students) and daily, new infections in this group are occurring. When considering the fact that this group has the greatest potential for sustainable economic development due to acquired skills at tertiary institutions this spells disaster for the nation and it is intriguing why special attention has not been given to tertiary students. The loss of these students a few years down the road after they have graduated will undermine labour forces, exports, business productivity, investments, capacity building and ultimately the national economy.
Another dimension to this is the fact that young graduates are leaving the country in their thousands in search of greener pastures as the Zimbabwean educational system despite recent problems is still highly regarded in neighbouring countries and those further afield. If these young people are not protected from transmission they can easily become agents of transmission in host countries be it with in Africa or beyond.
The question that begs answers is why tertiary students (a group so critical to nation development) have been overlooked?
This is because on the surface tertiary students in Zimbabwe do not seem to conform to the face value of the stereotyped groups which usually have a high HIV prevalence rate. These groups tend to come from marginalized communities were poverty is rampant, illiteracy wide spread, and women disempowered and disfranchised. People from these communities tend to use desperate strategies to increase their incomes which are conducive to the spread of HIV/AIDS for example poverty driven commercial sex work.
From an onlooker’s perspective, tertiary students seem so far removed from such scenarios yet a critical look reveals that most tertiary students in Zimbabwe often operate and live in an environment and come from backgrounds which are conducive to the spread of HIV/AIDS.
So an assumption without proper observation, investigation and analysis is being wrongly made that tertiary students are a safe group yet they are probably one of the worst affected groups in terms of new infections with grim consequences to the socio economic development, stability and sustainability of Zimbabwe.
WHY THE WRONG ASSUMPTION?
For foreign decision makers in international donor organisations and agencies who come from the northern hemisphere it is a matter of failing to associate tertiary education and poverty. This critical group of decision makers and partners usually come from countries where the economies are strong and the majority of university and college students come from lower middle class families or better. The minority that come from poor communities have government grants and loans available and accessible at reasonable interest rates. To add to this, part-time work for university and college students is easily available on and off campus during the semester or full-time employment during vacations which enable students to improve their income and resource base. This is totally unheard of in this part of the world where unemployment is wide spread and sometimes even graduates have to leave the country in search of work.
So for foreign partners, the issue of poverty in tertiary institutions is inherently hidden to them because of experiences from their own countries. They simply assume all is well at universities and colleges across the nation.
When international organisations’ decision makers, researchers and programme managers think of poverty in Africa and Zimbabwe in particular, they generally think of draught stricken rural areas, HIV/AIDS orphans and child headed families. What they fail to realise is that tertiary students come from that very background. Infact these students are the determined survivors of that poverty who simply relocate from their communities to universities and colleges during the duration of the semester as a means of acquiring an education that they hope will liberate them from the bondage of the poverty of the communities they come from. For Zimbabwe’s poor, education is the only way out of poverty, yet it is fast becoming unaffordable and increasingly inaccessible to those who need it the most. Students carry the burden of poverty.
To make matters worse, the students have to carry the extra responsibility of passing their classes or face repeating thus prolonging the socio-economic misery of tertiary life or worse still, to be discontinued that’s loosing a precious opportunity of tertiary education which would be a gateway to a descent life.
For the Zimbabwean population who know the general poor background of tertiary students the problem is that they wrongly assume that students are still receiving government loans and grants for their fees and up keep as was the norm in the past. As the economy continued on its free fall, the government quietly discontinued government support for tertiary students leaving them at the mercy of the vagrancies of poverty. Government blames the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank for policies which are anti education and of late the government has been blaming targeted sanctions by western countries mainly the United States Of America, Great Britain and the European Union. On the other hand government critics blame corruption, lack of transparency, non democratic principles, unsustainable populist policies and economic mismanagement for the destruction of the economy. While all these arguments and accusations are flying all over, students are paying the price.
Only the poor parents/guardians and the students themselves know the struggle for survival that now exist in institutions of higher learning.
Students from better of families generally study outside the country mainly in South Africa, USA, Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Malaysia while those who remain at home study in expensive private colleges within the country. What’s saddening is that a lot of those students studying abroad are the children and relatives of people who are supposed to be the custodians of our educational system and government structures. That speaks volumes of their confidence in our educational system. While precious scarce foreign currency is being spend on these elite children the rest of their colleagues can barely afford one decent meal per day back at state universities.
For the remaining poor, they have to persevere under hash conditions and many have found it impossible to put up with the daily struggles of college life. Higher education in Zimbabwe is quickly becoming a preserve for the rich.
REASONS FOR LACK OF INFORMATION LEADING TO INTERVETION
A number of reasons have resulted in the lack of information which could have high lighted the need for informed positive intervention in tertiary institutions.
Firstly, universities and colleges are generally closed communities which outsiders perceive as institutions of higher learning whose core business and main activity is to equip young people with the knowledge and skills to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers etc. The assumption is that these young people are intelligent citizens who were responsible and disciplined enough to achieve the required grades to enter university. They must be responsible, enlightened, ambitious, and obviously know what they are doing and where they are going. They know better than to indulge in behaviour that would make them contract the HIV virus and jeopardise a future that they have worked so hard to achieve.
This maybe so, but the Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) statistics coming out of tertiary clinics paint a different picture. Outsiders fail to realise that these institutions are communities that are fully functional with human beings who have a full social life not just young people simply reading books and attending lecturers.
Secondly the high risk behaviour that some students are now being forced to indulge in is not something that they are proud of. These survival methods and strategies are normally closely guarded secrets among friends or even at individual level. This behaviour is generally hidden to most people including classmates and parents. But hiding one’s social life does not eliminate risk.
Thirdly, because of the of wrong assumption earlier stated research and intervention on HIV/AIDS tend to concentrate on those groups that are universally accepted as high risk behaviour groups such as commercial sex workers and much sympathy and effort is directed towards under age orphans.
Fourthly, students only spend an average of two to four years at tertiary institutions. So though students are being infected at tertiary institutions, they are not falling over and dying right there for everyone to see the problem. The full impact of the problem comes to full circle much later when they are in industry and at the work place, when they are now married with children. That’s when you will find them ill and dying yet the problem would have started back at universities and colleges. As they die, new orphans are created, dependents are impoverished and the entire nation suffers from the loss of skill, loss of tax base, and increased pressure on the social welfare system. Statistics supports this, as about 39% of all deaths recorded in Harare (capital city) in 2006 due to illnesses which were mostly HIV related occurred in the 25 to 44 year age group. This is the most productive group.
The truth of the matter is that tertiary students in Zimbabwe have been exposed to a socio economic environment which is highly conducive to the transmission of the HIV virus.
This is not about morality or personal responsibility neither is this about the level of education of individuals. This is about poverty and survival. The need to live through university or college, to acquire skills that will enable students to escape the poverty stricken backgrounds they come from. Sometimes the price is too high to pay, but it has to be paid, for sadly, sometimes the end justifies the means.
Poverty lies at the heart of the problem.
WHAT CAUSES POVERTY AMOUNG STUDENTS
The Zimbabwean macro economic environment has deteriorated to unprecedented levels. An inflation estimated by IMF to be about150000%, the highest in the world, has meant 85% of Zimbabweans live below the poverty datum line. Unemployment is estimated at about 80%. The 2007 Index of Economic Freedom compiled by the Washington based Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal showed Zimbabwe anchoring the 157 country list of economies whose operating environments were reviewed. The economic decline has been going on for the past nine years with the Zimbabwean gross domestic product contracting by a cumulative 40% over the past eight years. Zimbabwe boasts the largest budget deficit in the world at over 10%. Transparency International’s ranking of corrupt countries shows Zimbabwe sliding down the ladder to take the worst spot among continental countries ravaged by graft.
The lack of direct government support to students in forms of grants and loans for their fees and upkeep in form of payouts.
The fact that most universities and colleges are in the big cities and the majority of students come from rural areas and smaller towns hundreds of kilometres away does not ogre well for the students, since the lack of adequate accommodation on campus forces students to incur daily transport cost to and from school, and this also means that students have to compete with the economically better off working class for scarce and expensive accommodation off campus.
Students who normally go to state institutions come from poor rural and poor urban families. So by the fact of who their parents and guardians are, they are poor too. Most sadly a significant number of these students are orphans who will have been supported by donor organisations through out primary and secondary education. Yet at the very critical stage of career development, they are left to fend for themselves since they will be assumed to be adults. What this does is that, instead of breaking the cycle of poverty, poverty is being perpetuated as these children fail to afford tertiary education or for those who look for risky alternatives of income to finance their college or university life, the pandemic will take its toll at some premature point of their lives.
It is ironic that higher education which in other countries has meant the lowering of HIV/AIDS as women are economically empowered to negotiate safer sex and as men become more educated to understand reproductive health matters, has meant the opposite in Zimbabwe. The poverty experienced at tertiary institutions, leaves students exposed to conditions that are conducive to the transmission of the HIV virus and go on to infect their life partners later in life.
Ways must be found to end this poverty and to have comprehensive prevention,
testing and treatment programmes to deal with the pandemic in tertiary
institutions across the country. Ways must be found to come up with a
holistic approach to the problem in tertiary institutions. These may be political or
economic but something needs to be done without fear to save the lives of young
Zimbabweans in tertiary institutions.
To become a leading dynamic organisation that contributes to the well being of students and youths in Zimbabwe by fighting the HIV/AIDS pandemic and ensuring that young people actively participate in decision making processes through democratic means, making initiatives in addressing issues that affect their daily lives be it on political, economic, social, educational or health issues at community, national, regional and international levels.
SAAF seeks to increase the participation of students and youths and the understanding by all stake holders of HIV/AIDS issues as they affect students and the youths by:
Networking and advocacy on HIV/AIDS issues with relevant authorities and partners
Providing tangible support to students and youths
To contribute towards the recognition of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in institutions of higher learning and advocating for interventional methods among stake holders
Providing meaningful support to students infected and affected by HIV/AIDS
To promote democratic participatory principles through out the country by students both at tertiary institutions and in the communities they come from
To advocate for access to affordable education at institutions of higher learning and lower levels for all young people as a mitigatory method to the spread of HIV/AIDS
To promote gender equality on reproductive health issues and all other facets of life and strive for the elimination of gender based violence in all areas
KEY PRINCIPLES AND VALUES
SAAF views HIV/AIDS first as a socioeconomic problem prevalent in communities where poverty is extensive, gender inequality is pervasive and public services are weak which are signs of mal-development an indicator of the failure to create a more equitable and prosperous society rather than a health problem. Hence solutions to the HIV/AIDS problem are not restricted to medical research and treatment but depend on socio-economic dynamics of communities such as social cohesion and the overall level of wealth. SAAF understands the main role that poverty plays in the transmission of HIV/AIDS as it is a key factor leading to behaviours that expose people to the risk of HIV infections.
For the infected poverty means rapid deterioration of the condition as lack of proper diet, and medication can rack havoc on the health of infected persons.
Students Aids Action Forum (SAAF) recognises the rights of people infected or affected by HIV/AIDS to have access to medical care, counselling, proper diet, normal life and that they must be treated with dignity.
DEMOCRACY AND HUMAN RIGHTS
As SAAF we believe it is impossible to design an effective strategy for dealing with HIV/AIDS with out entering the broader policy arena where everyone must have a say and the right to be heard. Institutions to the discussion table must include churches, political parties, traditional leaders, women’s groups, student groups, human rights groups, local communities, minorities, national governments, international agencies etc.
We believe that societies where democratic principles are up held, where democratic institutions are strong and functional, and where human rights are respected, have a greater capacity to deal with the pandemic since such societies respect the views of all stakeholders on issues that affect society be it political, economic, educational and health matters that ultimately impact on the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Students and youths must be heard and they must indeed fight to protect their interests and rights. They must also know that HIV/AIDS has everything to do with issues of governance, constitutionalism and democracy which directly impact on employment, economic performance, corruption, provision of social services, the right to be heard and the right to choose leaders who will improve the lives of the majority.
Hence HIV/AIDS can not be separated from all other socioeconomic political issues.
SAAF sees education as one of the most important social preventative methods to HIV/AIDS. It can be used as a tool for economic empowerment, as a means of teaching life skills that make young people less susceptible to conditions that increase the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission and as a broad based far reaching medium for preventative messages. Therefore government funding and the mobilisation of resources by international organisations and groupings is critical in the provision of accessible affordable quality education.
This means teachers and lecturers must be properly remunerated, teaching materials must be available and a safe learning environment created for both genders. More importantly, educational funding and pledges by government, donors, international organisations and agencies must go beyond primary and secondary education to higher education where careers are really created and the skills for developing modern economies and industries are imparted. We must use education not only as a tool for poverty alleviation but to go further and make education a tool for wealth creation. We must not be satisfied when women make candles for a few dollars to feed their children or can simply read and write. We must be satisfied only when those women have become lawyers, software engineers, doctors, accounts, business women and industrialist so that they can really contribute to a modern sustainable economy. Hence government must prioritise higher education and come up with methods of ensuring that set targets are achieved, not just to pay lip service without adequately funding education.
We are aware of the fact that inequalities in gender run parallel to inequalities in income and assets. It is well known that young women are physiologically and socially more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS than young men. Married women often have little control over the sexual behaviour of their husbands, or protection from the consequences of male behaviour.
SAAF recognises the equality of women and men and that of boys and girls. We there for promote and encourage the equal and fair distribution of resources for both sexes and encourage affirmative action for women in higher educational institutions as students and affirmative action for women at the work place.
The elimination of gender based violence and sexual abuse at all levels of society is paramount. SAAF strives to achieve equal participation and representation of sexes in its activities and structures. We appreciate the role of education in empowering the girl child economically and ultimately on issues of reproductive health which will enable women to be in a better position to negotiate for safer sex.
AREAS OF FOCUS
Human rights and democracy
Lobbying and advocacy
Networking and exchange.
EFFECTIVE PROGRAMMES PHILOSOPHY
It is critical that the programmes that we embark on must be effective so that resources are better spent and energy better directed. To achieve this we under take the following principles in all our programmes
Gender inequalities fuelling the epidemic must be explicitly addressed
Prevention methods, life saving treatments and the results of scientific breakthroughs in prevention and care must be broadly available on an equitable and affordable basis to all
People living with or affected by HIV/AIDS must be actively engaged and supported in their efforts to address the epidemic in their communities
To encourage government to take a leadership role to ensure that national and international efforts respond to the needs of communities and the nation with out politicisation of aid.
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This is a non-campus group.
Geographical Scope: National
This group is a network.
Added on 08-04-2008
Updated on 05-24-2010