Ms Pamela Sibusisiwe Makenete on her experiences as a Peer Educator:
The day I realised and appreciated my contribution and commitment to peer education was when I was standing in a queue with friends waiting to order at the KFC opposite the Howard College campus. A person in the queue tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I ‘was the girl who delivers female condom tutorials in the Shepstone Building foyer’. My friends burst out laughing but I said with pride: ‘Yes I am!’
I regret not having as much time as I would like to involve myself in peer education activities. I really am keen to attend every residence visit and event organised by the Campus HIV and AIDS Support Unit (CHASU) but unfortunately living at home restricts me in the amount of work I can put in.
My most profound moment this year was when I went to have my regular HIV test at the school clinic and the councillor, whom I know from CHASU, asked me to conduct the pre-test HIV counselling on her instead of in the usual way. This same counsellor is responsible for also having made me realise the importance of students, especially young women, not only protecting themselves against pregnancy but also realising the high HIV stats at UKZN. I realised that even though we as female students are aware of the horrifically high incidence of HIV at the University, we still fear pregnancy more. We also shy away from the probability that those who we are sexually active with, may have other sexual partners and therefore the chances of them infecting us are high.
Once when I offered a young woman a condom and an HIV test, she replied proudly: ‘I am married’. This made me think back to the “lecture” I received from a counsellor who played the greatest role in me wanting to become a peer educator. It is young men and women like this particular lady counsellor who trust their partners are faithful and they themselves in return are monogamous.
Being a peer educator has taught me a great deal regarding sexual health, sexuality and ways in which sexual diseases can be prevented. Through informative training, I have learned about the different contraceptive methods available and also the different ways in which sex can be initiated depending on the preference of persons and their gender identity. I have met and come to understand different people who identify themselves as different gender groups from the usual male/female. We strive as peer educators to deliver the knowledge we have gained on HIV prevention to our fellow students at UKZN in the hope we can help statistics of HIV on our campuses to stop rising at such a fast rate.
Though we preach abstinence before all else, we realise it is almost impossible to convince students to follow this guaranteed contraceptive method. We then try to influence their behaviour by promoting condom usage, having one sexual partner at all times and getting tested with their sex partners.
I have become more aware of the harsh reality of the HIV epidemic on my campus, and in my province, country and Africa. Through the many issues I have been exposed to through being a peer educator, I have become more educated on HIV and AIDS-related matters. I realise there are a whole lot of these issues which are not debated sufficiently.
I also realise the importance of my role in influencing my peers and in turn them influencing others to change their behaviour which is seen as contributing to the spread of the HIV epidemic.
The first time I was asked to distribute condoms on campus I felt embarrassed about what people would think and how they would perhaps associate me with a certain lifestyle. However, what surprised me as I distributed condoms was the large number of students on campus who are sexually active. The most innocent looking young girls would ask me to secretly slip condoms into their bags but others would refuse them in of fear of what their parents would do if they found them.
I then took the initiative of teaching myself how to demonstrate the use of a female condom and would walk around with an open condom showing girls how to use it, and trying to persuade them to always have it in case their partner didn’t have one or didn’t want to use a male condom.
Being a peer educator has been a great, awakening experience. I have grown as a young woman and become more confident thanks to peer education. I will without a doubt continue as a peer educator for as long as I am a student and if I do ever move to another varsity that doesn’t have such an initiative, I will strive to introduce it.
I am absolutely ready and cannot wait for the challenges I may face as a peer educator, striving to make a difference in ensuring that my fellow youth also contribute towards the movement of ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic one day in the future.