A Rustington woman has helped mobilise an entire community in the fight against AIDS.
Her work in Zambia, helping to stop the spread of HIV, is being highlighted today to coincide with World AIDS Day.
Sasha Bainbridge, 23, ran sexual health lessons in schools, taught people about contraception and safe sex, and ran awareness days about sexual transmitted infections during her three months of volunteering with the International Citizen Service.
“The most challenging thing was overcoming ingrained beliefs about the issues we were there to discuss,” she said.
“Many times patience was the key. It required careful and prolonged dialogue with communities, allowing individuals to question and challenge you as many times as necessary on a given topic in order for them to understand the information for themselves.
“My biggest achievement was mobilising an entirely new community, which also happened to be the largest community that we visited. We developed a rapport with a community that had been largely sceptical about our presence and left having developed the strongest relationship with them of all.”
Sasha worked alongside young Zambian volunteers to deliver sex education classes at schools and youth groups in Samfya. She also trained local volunteers to become Sexual Health Champions before she returned home on November 13.
She said: “Many young people in Zambia have never had any sex education because health services can be limited and those which do exist can be overshadowed by cultural norms and travelling limitations. In the case of young females, their paramount duties are in the home, which greatly prohibits their time for visiting the available services.
“As a direct result, local notions about contraception often interfere with the ability of young people to protect themselves against risks like STIs, unwanted pregnancy or HIV transmission. Often these issues can be traced back to a lack of information and challenges accessing support. Therefore, sexual reproductive health knowledge becomes the biggest single challenge to the education and livelihoods of young people in Zambia.”
There were 20,000 AIDS-related deaths in the country last year and 1.2 million people, which is 12.9 per cent of the population, currently live with HIV.
Sasha was working to improve knowledge and understanding of good sexual health to help combat the spread of sexual transmitted infections, including HIV.
“I think people in the UK should mark World AIDS Day by taking the time to appreciate that education and accessible, free health services are a luxury some people can only dream of,” she said.
“We should give back to others in whichever way is possible for us. Whether that’s helping an elderly person cross the road or carrying their shopping or paying for a homeless person to get a bus ride for a few hours in the warm.”
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