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Having been involved in HIV education since 1985, I have seen major changes in the approaches being taken toward slowing the spread of the virus, motivating people to take their medication consistently, and overcoming stigma and the discrimination that results. Some of those changes have been very good, others, not so helpful.

One of the most important understandings for any who are involved is that HIV is not just about disease or medicine or facts or statistics or information.  It’s about people! If we lose site of the people involved, we fail to be effective HIV educators, care givers, researchers, or in any other sense involved.

Maarifa is the product of a great deal of study and the heart of a woman who knows the importance of remembering people and, specifically, cares so deeply for young people that she is compelled to put her creativity and knowledge into a curriculum that will make a major difference in their lives.

Young people continue to be at the highest risk of infection. Jessica Steyn understands that the most important element in HIV education is not information, but motivation. If they are not motivated to apply what they learn about HIV, it will not have any impact on the choices they make. She also understands that fear alone is not an effective motivator.

Steyn incorporates positive, hope filled motivation into the lessons to help young people see that there are wonderful benefits that come with healthy choices, not just the risks of other choices. Having spent many years of her life living in Africa, she also understands that motivation that is effective comes from people within the local culture, not outsiders. She also understands that the people of Africa make up many, many cultures, not just one. Steyn uses approaches that adapt to the various cultures in which the material will be used and uses the understanding of the culture that the facilitators possess.

One of the most important obstacles to addressing HIV is stigma. It motivates people to avoid testing. If they test positive, stigma makes it harder to seek and stay on treatment. Stigma must be overcome! Steyn understands that this will not happen by just educating people about HIV or telling them it is not appropriate to stigmatize. She incorporates the understanding that stigma is a negative attitude toward those living with HIV. As such, to overcome it, the attitude must be replaced with positive attitudes. These can include caring, friendship, compassion, and the understanding that people living with this virus are valuable. When people come to the point of realizing how much they have to gain from friendship with those with HIV, they are motivated to build relationships that make stigma a thing of the past.

Steyn believes in young people. She believes in their value as people and in their ability to make and carryout healthy choices. That includes saving sex for marriage and being faithful in marriage, undoubtedly the most effective way to stop the spread of HIV. She also understands that not everyone will make those choices. As a result, she is committed to being sure young people understand the truth about other approaches to slowing the spread of HIV. That includes teaching the truth about the effectiveness and failures of condoms. It also includes powerful new strategies including PREP (Pre Exposure Prophylaxis), Treatment as Prevention, PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis), and so many more that continue to be developed.

Young people’s lives are worth saving and Maarifa is a tool that has the potential not only to save their lives, but also to make their lives more fulfilling, productive, and abundant.

Duane Crumb is the Founder and Director of HIVHope International. In that role, he travels around the world speaking and facilitating seminars to equip and empower people to develop their own creative strategies, materials, and  programs to effectively address the issues involved in HIV in their local cultures and meet the needs of those living with the disease. Through 2015 he has facilitated 76 seminars in 23 countries on 4 continents. Previous to this he co-founded the American Institute for Teen AIDS Prevention, and became its Executive Director. There he developed and distributed HIV education materials primarily targeting the public schools of the United States. He presented motivational HIV prevention assembly programs in middle and high schools and other settings in 38 states and many other countries, addressing more than 800,000 students.    

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