The library club of the school saw the need to sensitize as well as educate the students better to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Four other upper basic schools from the community joined the SOS Hermann Gmeiner School. Each school sent in two participants as well as ten supporters. All the staff and students, parents, educational authorities and friends of the school gathered to witness the event. It was well-organized with lots of laughter and cheers from students of the participating teams.
The programme started at 9 a.m. with the "SOS prayer" and singing of the national anthem. In her opening remarks, the school principal, Mrs Hannah Davies, stated that it is by means of such events that the HIV/AIDS-related culture of silence can be broken. "Even though the disease is ravaging the world, we still have hope that in educating our young ones, we can prevent infection," she added.
On a serious noteAlthough the programme was meant to be "learning through play", the organisers also wanted it to carry some weight so that the reality of AIDS could be felt. They invited Mr Ceesay, the president of the "Santa Yalla Society" (for people living with HIV/AIDS), as a guest speaker to give a presentation on "Stigma and Discrimination" and share his experiences as someone living with HIV.
This part of the programme was interesting yet emotional and very sobering, as the reality of the situation then dawned on everyone. When Mr Ceesay was speaking, one could feel how everybody was engrossed in and attentive to what he was saying. He mentioned how he got infected, his relationship with others and the work of the Santa Yalla Society.
He advised students to accept the reality of AIDS and the fact that there is no cure, but that transmission can be prevented. At the end of his speech, he received standing ovations. Everyone thanked him for joining the school in the follow-up to World AIDS Day and for being so courageous, brave and open.
How much do you know about HIV/AIDS?The quiz came next. In order to ensure fair play, the library club had invited members of the "Lend-A-Hand Society", a body that co-ordinates quizzes, debates, symposia etc., to play the roles of announcer, quizmaster, and judge. To create variety and make the quiz even more interesting and challenging, all participating schools had submitted a number of questions to the society in sealed envelopes one week before the programme. These were the questions compiled for the quiz.
After the quizmaster had explained the rules of the quiz, questions were given to the contestants who tried their best to answer them and score marks for their schools. Questions asked included how one can get infected, how many people are infected nationally and internationally, projects to combat HIV/AIDS, institutions that are involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and how the pandemic is affecting Gambia's economy, development and society. Although some questions were tough for the students, the contestants tackled most of them brilliantly, showing how well-informed they were on the issue.
It was a tough competition. Everybody expected Sukuta Upper Basic School to win, as they are the current champions of the regional AIDS competitions organised by the municipality. At the end of the six quiz rounds, however, the SOS Hermann Gmeiner Lower/Upper Basic School emerged as the winner with 37 points, followed by Bakoteh Upper Basic School with 25 points.
Amidst loud applause, the winners collected their prizes. All contestants received certificates of participation. T-shirts with the slogan "BEWARE OF AIDS. AIDS EXISTS. AIDS KILLS" were distributed to everybody present as a token and a symbol for campaigning against the deadly disease.
Lessons to be learntIt was a memorable occasion, presented in a most entertaining way. In spite of all the fun, there was no way around the central topic, which is the school's educational effort to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS and to present a united front with other schools in the fight against the deadly disease.
Everyone had been involved in one way or the other. Participants, students and guests were given the chance for a brush-up, or learnt something new from all that had taken place. The organisers have achieved their goal - the message continues to spread like ripples.