By Jeff Andrew Lule
MPIGI – Ugandan youth have been advised to abstain from sex – until the right time – if they want to live long enough to realize their dreams.
This was a message directed to the young Ugandans by Maj. Rubaramira Ruranga, the executive director of National Guidance and Empowerment Network of People Living with HIV/Aids, Uganda (NGEN+).
He pointed out that many youth were living recklessly, which poses danger to their lives.
This was at the second 2015 Annual Youth Health Camp at Hana Mixed Secondary School in Mpigi district.
“Abstain from sex to be safe. There’s no need to hurry for sex. I am a living example. I am HIV positive but managing my life properly and I will die of old age, not Aids,” said Rubaramira, who famously first came out on his status several years ago.
“You must live responsibly to avoid contracting HIV/Aids. It is hurting to see young people die at a very young age.”
The week-long was staged under the theme: “Sexuality under 18” and was organized by Reach a Hand Uganda (RAHU), a youth led volunteer organisation, supported by The Segal Family Foundation, RutgersWPF and MTV-Staying Alive Foundation, UNESCO, Standard Chartered Bank, and Events warehouse.
The camp involved free HIV testing and counseling among the youth and the community, street drives, demonstrations and performances.
It also featured powerful messages and mentorship from renowned personalities including Miss Uganda Leah Kalanguka, comedians Idringi Salvado and Omara, artistes Maurice Hasa of the famousKaleke Kasome song and rapper Dan Kigozi aka Navio, among others.
Rubaramira urged the youth to always know their status and make right choices for a better future.
Through various performances, the recurrent message to students was to ‘abstain from sex’ and adults to ‘jump off the sexual network’.
Scores of students and locals in the area queued for HIV testing and counseling. A total of 500 students and community members tested to know their sero-status.
‘I have learnt a lot’
Students from 12 different schools composed 15-minute performances highlighting problems like early pregnancy, drug abuse, peer pressure and cross-generational sex.
Three schools, namely, Hana Mixed School, Katale Modern School and Mariam High School merged the best and were rewarded a cash prize of sh2m, sh1.5m and sh1m respectively.
Other RAHU staff conducted outreach drives in the community where they gave out free condoms to the communities. The camp targeted youth between 15 to 24 years.
“It is very educative because there are so many things I have learned that I did not know. It is even my first time to test. I always feared to test but after counseling, and knowing its importance, I got the courage,”said Raymond Mugisha, a Senior Six student of Boma SS in Mbarara.
Peace Kwizera, a Senior Three student from Hana Mixed School, said many parents fear to talk with their children about some of the issues raised in the camp, thus falling victims.
“In case I decide to have sex, now I know what to do and the dangers. But I think the best option for school-going children is abstinence to avoid ruining their future.”
Maurice Hassa, a local artiste, stressed that entertainment is the only way to reach out to the youth. “It is easy to get them with entertainment. That’s why we use music, dance and drama, with the presence of their renowned personalities.”
On his part, RAHU executive director, Humphrey Nabimanya said the camp is aimed at creating behavioral change awareness campaign on sexual, reproductive, human rights and HIV/Aids.
“We want to empower and enable young people make right informed choices about their sex life and future,” he said.
The camp is the second of its kind since it was initiated last year. Unlike last year, this time it involved youth from neighboring Rwanda, Burundi and Kenya.
Rev. Canon Gideon Byamugisha, the first African religious leader to openly disclose his HIV-positive status, encouraged the youths to embrace voluntary testing as a sure way of knowing their status.
Altogether, the camp attracted over 700 youth.