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From the opening of America’s first AIDS clinic in 1982 to present day, HIV/AIDS education has expanded greatly. AIDS, the final stage of the HIV infection, occurs when a person’s immune system is badly ravaged and becomes susceptible to opportunistic infections. As of 2014, AIDS has claimed approximately 1.2 million lives since its epidemic in the late 20th century. However, with the introduction of new medicines, technologies and preventive care, annual deaths attributed to AIDS have fallen by 42%.
Here at Townsend Harris High School, we acknowledge how important knowledge is in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and use peer educators to spread the messages about this awful disorder. With upcoming World AIDS Day, two peer educators spoke up about their roles in preventing the spread of AIDS as well as how students can get involved this December 1st.
Both Erela Datuowei and Sarah Gafur are HIV/AIDS peer educators who take their positions very seriously. When asked about their motivation to take on such an important position Erela stated, “It seemed like a fun thing to do initially… but in a way it became personal when we arrived at the seminar and learned about people’s stories and how they became statistics. That stuck to me and made me want to do something about it.”
For Sarah, being an educator was not a whimsical decision. “I am very heavily a part of sexual health, reproductive health and LGBT health,” she insisted, “so being a part of the HIV/AIDS educating is only logical.”
For both Sarah and Erela, their responsibilities as educators are very dear to them. Sarah summarized how her job is imperative: “The beginning to any major revolution in the world is the youth and educating the youth. Thus educating the youth is very important especially in terms of sexual health as some of us are beginning our descent into our sex lives. As we educate youth and our peers we are let out into the world practicing safe sex habits we can only have a positive impact.”
Erela stressed the effectiveness of peer education versus normal classroom instruction by pointing out, “people are just naturally more inclined to listen to their peers. Hearing this from a teacher might not interest you or it might intimidate you but peer education creates a comfortable zone.”
Besides their year long efforts to educate others about the gravity of HIV/AIDS, in lieu of the upcoming global AIDS health day, both educators urge their peers to get involved. Erela urged, “Showing support doesn’t have to be difficult. Wear a red tshirt. Make a post about it.” Sarah chimed in and added, “Take some time to reflect on those who lost their life to HIV/AIDS and reflect on ways to prevent the spread.”
Erela concluded the discussion of World AIDS Day by stating, “When something has a day dedicated to it, it becomes all the more significant. It’s serious but I think it will be incredible when World AIDS Day is celebrated in remembrance- when we have successfully ended the epidemic.”
The HIV/AIDS peer educators will be visiting classrooms on December 8th to share their knowledge with the student body.