by Dion Benetatos: Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation

Health News HIV

Future Fighters teach youth how to protect their health

Future fighters
Future fighters
Started in 2004, the Future Fighters is a group of 30 young people living in the Masiphumelele and Crossroads communities of South Africa. It was started by the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation as a way to engage and teach the youth to protect their health. 

The Future Fighters work in some of the most at-risk communities for HIV in the world: Masiphumelele has 28% and Crossroads has 26% HIV prevalence, according to a 2010 government report. Furthermore, almost one in 10 adolescents in Masiphumelele, male and female, aged between 11 and 19 years, was already infected with HIV. 

The Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation gives the Future Fighters the information they need to serve as youth ambassadors, community role models and advocates for HIV prevention.
 
Over the next six months (through October), the Future Fighters will visit different schools in the area to teach students about HIV and HIV vaccines – a peer-to-peer learning model that is yet to be widely implemented here in the public health landscape in South Africa. 

The youth have dubbed the programme, “Future Fighters Forward”, and have a goal of visiting 10 local schools to give fun and creative presentations to the entire student body.

The Future Fighters will not only be giving presentations at the schools, but will inspire students to create drama, dance and poetry groups of their own. The team will explain how the group works, how they try to influence their peers and act as role models in the community, and what they do to become HIV vaccine advocates. 

The Future Fighters will mentor students in the newly created groups (peer-to-peer mentorship), inspiring them to become youth ambassadors themselves. The team will provide the groups with information on vaccines and HIV to incorporate into their poems and skits, helping the mission of the Future Fighters to live on long after the visits to the schools.
 
Most outreach efforts focus on adult HIV education, while youth are either forgotten about or taught about HIV using pamphlets and ‘boring’ PowerPoint presentations (as one Future Fighter mentions in the video).

The youth responds to fun and engaging activities, all of which will be part of the youth-focused vaccine curriculum the foundation develops with the Future Fighters. It is hoped the Future Fighters can serve as role models, and make protecting one’s health ‘cool’.

By engaging youth, it is hoped a new generation of vaccine supporters will be created. Instead of convincing adults to protect their health, the focus is to get youth excited and engaged in these key strategies to protect their health from the start. The aim is to create a new generation of aware, educated, and health-seeking people.

Using a peer-to-peer learning style is unique and innovative. The Future Fighters do not talk down to youth – instead they train other young people how to lead the vaccine conversation in an engaging, approachable way. It is a unique group of empowered young people who understand how other young people think; they can reach the youth and have a direct impact on their peers.
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