Friday, September 04, 2009

Sexual Health in Southern Tanzania, Part One of Three

On 6th August, shortly before leaving Songea, I interviewed Oswin about the Hoja Project. When we were finished, I continued chatting with him about Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) in the local area.

The rest of the video footage I took in Tanzania will be edited "soon", but this particular interview took priority, as I'm still involved with SPW through Advocates for Action - we're a group of volunteers who campaign for better international policy on SRHR for young people. Tomorrow we're having a planning/training day so it's quite useful for others to see what I learnt about what happens in the community.

For those who don't know (and at the risk of boring those who do), Oswin Mahundi runs Hoja, which is largely funded by COCO. I know Oswin from when we both volunteered for SPW in 2004 and was one of several volunteers who helped him set up Hoja in his local community.

The video is about 20 minutes long in total, split into three separate parts on YouTube.  I'll just consider the first part today, and the other two another time.

In the first part, Oswin talks about the responsibilities of local Government and the Church, and sexual health education in schools.

So far we learn that in public meetings Local Government officials are supposed to always say something about HIV/Aids. Unsurprisingly this doesn't happen - I can't imagine they're given much training on the subject.

Again, it's probably not surprising to most readers that Churches are reluctant to repeat (or hostile towards) the official Government line, given that it includes the recommendation to use condoms. I always feel that the trick with the Church is to ignore the extremist idiots, and appeal to everyone else's higher moral principle of protecting human life from a devastating health condition.

As long as you don't go in ranting and raving, most moderate Christians will happily cede your point.  And I got the impression that though people listen while the "no contraception" message is trotted out, many will happily ignore it because everything else they hear tells them "Abstain, Be Faithful, Use a Condom".

Perhaps HIV instills much greater fear than eternal damnation. Or perhaps it's just shouting louder - there are signs up all over town with health messages, whether from the Government or from the Salama Condoms company. "Get tested", "If you love them, you'll protect them", and so on.

In schools, however, the message is rather less snappy.  Teachers are not very well trained to teach their own subject, so the chances of them knowing what they're doing outside their own expertise is slim at best.

In primary schools, SRHR education is taught in a subject called "Maarifa ya Jamii" in Standards VI and VII, which are the top two years of secondary school, when the pupils are aged between about 12 and 14, when many pupils (particularly girls) will have already hit puberty.

I can't help feeling that teaching someone about changes in their body after the changes have already happened, is a bit like teaching someone to wrestle after putting them in a sumo tournament. Someone's quite likely to take advantage of them.

In secondary schools, SRHR education seems largely restricted to the Biology syllabus, and poor quality textbooks don't help either. It's not uncommon for Tanzanian school textbooks to contain sentences that are either plain wrong, or just don't make grammatical sense.

Primary education in Tanzania is in Swahili, and then secondary education is in English. Pupils struggle greatly with this and the teachers don't find it very easy either. In classrooms across Tanzania you will find lots of teachers writing on the blackboard and pupils copying everything down and learning the definitions by rote. Understanding is merely a bonus.

Where SRHR issues do sometimes appear outside of Biology lessons, it is usually in Civics. I was able to buy a copies of a commonly used Civics textbooks from Forms One to Four, while I was in Dar es Salaam. They're written by a chap called Zabron M. Manzi, who is a...
"...graduate of the University of Dar es Salaam (BA and MA).  He is a retired teacher and a prominent writer of academic materials in secondary schools and higher learning institutions."
It's a shame that despite these qualifications he never learned to proof read - it's full of mistakes. You may think I'm being mean, picking on him for this, but once I quote a couple of sections, I'm sure you'll stop feeling any kind of sympathy towards him.

In the section on Life Skills, on page 36, the book extols the virtues of being able to make informed decisions (I'll bold the important words):
(iii) Decision making
This is the ability to make a choice about of many options that are available, after knowing the consequences of the choice. Once the choice has been made. The plans for action and acts on it.
Note that down. Decision making is about making informed choices out of many options. In the same section, yes just one leaf away on page 38, Manzi presents his "many options" for avoiding HIV, so that pupils will be able to make informed decisions:
Prevention of HIV/AIDS
There are many ways of preventing HIV/AIDS but the safer way for youths is abstinence. Young people should stop sex till they are married. The role of young people is to disseminate information to their fellow peers to change their behaviours. In order to be successful in this exercise we must make use of life skills.
Yes, that's it. That's all he says. There are "many ways" to be safe but I'll only tell you one of them. Stick that up your decision-making pipe and smoke it.

Well, that's not that bad! I hear you cry. Perhaps not, but the next one is.

In Chapter Seven, on "Proper Behavior and Responsible Decision Making":
Factors influencing behaviors
Factors which affect human behavior are such as:
(i) Inheritance : Some behaviors are inherited by children from their parents. They are taken genetically during reproductive process. Such behaviors are like bravery, anger, aggression and prostitution.
Yes, you did read that correctly.

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