A few days ago, the directors of Volunteer Uganda came from Kampala and the UK to pay a visit. During the evening, a brass band from Mothercare Primary School played for us. The conductor was a boy of 12, and caught my attention as he shared the same name as me – the first Ugandan Stuart I have ever met! After their performance I introduced myself to him and played some games. He was a really fun kid, talkative with excellent English. Unlike most Ugandan boys of his age, he had no interest in football but was desperate to listen to music on my laptop and talked with extreme pride about his school band. It was only on talking with his headmaster later in the evening that I learnt of Stuart’s sad recent past – just three or four months ago his father had died of AIDS.
I knew from previous visits to other countries in this part of the world that it was a huge problem. Uganda itself has suffered a major epidemic but fortunately education programmes appear to have been successful in slowing the spread of the disease. The spearhead of this programme is the teaching of the ‘ABC plus’ strategy:
A – abstinence
B – be faithful
C – condoms
D – dispel stigma/disclose status
E – Empowerment
Volunteer Uganda plays a leading role in promoting this in the Kanungu district by giving HIV talks to secondary schools, after which the students have the opportunity to be tested.
Since we have been here working with V.U., the three of us from Arsenal have taken part in these talks, which are fun but carry a serious message. Fortunately, nobody has ever tested positive after them, so meeting Stuart was the first time I had seen the impact of HIV or AIDS first hand. I didn’t feel I could ask his headmaster if Stuart himself was infected, preferring to live in blissful ignorance. Fortunately, that’s no longer an excuse that can be used with regard to the disease itself – due to the impact of the education programmes and the signs and noticeboards all round the schools (see below), living in ignorance of HIV is simply not possible.