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Helping Children Living with HIV Start a New Life
(Names changed to protect children’s identity)
“This is a gift from an angel,” says 13-year-old Feruza, showing a colorful origami flower in her hands. She then smiles and adds “well, actually one of my new friends made it, but I was very happy when I found out that it was for me”.
There are other children cheerfully chatting with each other in this bright and spacy room. In their hands, each of them is holding similar “gifts from angels”, which they themselves made earlier as part of a training in Fergana in eastern Uzbekistan. This particular session of the training was intended as an ice-breaker and a reminder that mutual support and care is vital for everyone, especially for adolescents living with HIV.
The three-day event dubbed “Health and support basics” involves 30 HIV-positive adolescents from three Uzbek provinces - Fergana, Namangan and Andijan. It is one of the regular training events that UNICEF organizes with the Ministry of Health, to support adolescents living with HIV, and their parents.
At the event, children receive essential information on HIV and AIDS, and how to stay healthy and foster a positive attitude. Through interactive sessions, games and discussions, they learn about the importance of getting the right medical treatment and proper nutrition. Specialists explain to them the risks related to smoking and drug addition, as well as the role of healthy life style and hygiene.
Lazokat Nurmuhamedova, a UNICEF volunteer–trainer is leading some of the sessions. “The main purpose of training, which has been running for several years now, is to teach children how to live a positive life with HIV,” Lazokat says. “Most of children involved in training know their status and that they have to live with the virus. But still many of them do not take their pills regularly and that is something we are working hard to explain to them,” she adds.
Lazokat is working alongside a group of young co-trainers who once attended the workshop themselves, like today’s participants, and went on to join the team of instructors. Training adolescents as peer educators, who will inspire other HIV-positive children and adolescents as role models, is another goal of the workshop. That is why it includes special sessions focusing on volunteer activities and skills.
All adolescents receiving training today can become peer-to-peer educators at the Day Care Centers in their home regions, passing on knowledge and skills they learn here. Such centers have been set up in six Uzbek cities with support of UNICEF and the Ministry of Health, and there are plans to establish more in other parts of the country. So far children and parents have found the peer-to-peer networks effective in helping children suffering from HIV to start a new life.
The trainings would not have been productive without involving parents. That is why parallel sessions are arranged for the participants’ parents so that they can provide support and care their children need.
Khurshida Mahmudova, a pediatrician and trainer from Fergana Regional AIDS Center has been advising parents on ways to protect their children from the most prevalent HIV-related infections that may affect people with a weak immune system. “They need to understand that HIV does not have to stop them living a long, happy and fulfilling life,” says Khurshida. “We advise parents about the right medical treatment and drugs that actually help to live with HIV. This is important as many people do not know enough, and often risk their lives by ignoring the prescribed medications.”
The lack of basic knowledge about HIV indeed remains a big problem for parents, but for Madina, Feruza’s mother, the training is also important because of its effect on her and her daughter’s emotional well-being. “I am attending this training for adolescents and parents for the first time. It helped me to get back on my feet after a really long and terrible period of stress,” she says.
This is something that Lazokat also observes while leading sessions for children. “The way children change during these three days is amazing. Their attitude changes entirely. When they come to the sessions they are very shy and do not talk much. But now, after three days, they are so open, active and confident. And that is exactly what we want to achieve,” Lazokat says.