Student Well-Being

AFT Aims To Enlist African Teachers In War on AIDS

By Julie Blair — August 08, 2001 4 min read

Many teachers in Zimbabwe not only fail to acknowledge the AIDS epidemic ravaging their country, but are perpetuating the deadly disease by having unprotected sex with their students, health and education experts say.

The American Federation of Teachers hopes to help change such cultural norms and ultimately curb the spread of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa by creating an awareness campaign targeted at educators—the population that many health officials see as most influential in both aggravating and curtailing infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

“In talking with our colleagues in Africa, we realized the best thing we can do to help teachers and education is to find ways to counter AIDS among teachers,” said David Dorn, the director of international affairs department for the union. “We see AIDS as an education crisis.”

Teachers have a higher rate of HIV infection than any other segment of the population in Zimbabwe, the southern African nation of 11.3 million considered to be the “epicenter” of the continuing, worldwide AIDS crisis, said Dennis Sinyolo, the national secretary general of the Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association, based in Harare. Of the 90,000 people who teach in Zimbabwe, an estimated 30 percent are infected with HIV, he said.

Their likely premature deaths mean Zimbabwe will have an even more difficult time finding educators to teach, Mr. Sinyolo said. As a result, fewer students will likely receive the education they need to help the poor country compete in the global market. Currently, more than half the students who complete compulsory education— schooling for children ages 5 to 12—do not further their education, though opportunities are provided.

Mobilizing Teachers

The goal of the American and Zimbabwean unions is to train a cadre of educators about the transmission and prevention of the disease, then dispatch those teachers to instruct others, Mr. Dorn said. Teachers are revered leaders in many Zimbabwean communities, he explained, and children and adults alike seek their counsel.

Like many unions, the AFT has forged relationships with other labor organizations around the world in order to share advances and address common concerns, said Jamie Horwitz, a spokesman for the union. Moreover, he said, the AFT has long been dedicated to the cause of international education and will spend about 1 percent of its $101 million budget this fiscal year on outreach efforts.

The 1 million-member union announced the program informally here last month. It will carry the effort out along with the Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association, to which all of that country’s teachers belong.

The beginnings of a 19-month pilot program are already under way in Zimbabwe. So far, a needs assessment has been conducted with the help of AFT staff members, and a delegation of Zimbabwean union leaders and national health-care officials has traveled to the United States to examine AIDS education programs in Baltimore, New York City, and Washington.

A $140,000 grant from the U.S. Department of State and seed money of about $100,000 from the AFT are underwriting the project, Mr. Horwitz said. The American union will supplement that money with a fund-raising campaign in the coming school year. If the pilot is successful, it will be expanded to include other nations in Africa.

“Beyond any imagination, this is a great strategy,” said Sabada Dube, the Zimbabwean assistant health- programs director for the New York-based African Services Committee. He met with the delegation from Zimbabwe earlier this summer to discuss an AIDS- prevention program sponsored by his nonprofit organization. “Teachers are not only the mentors of academic life but of social life. They are the people who have values and can impart them.”

Teacher-Student Intimacy

Few in Zimbabwe are surprised to learn that teachers have the highest rates of HIV infection there, Mr. Sinyolo said.

In rural sub-Saharan Africa, many educators are infected while they work as prostitutes to earn money for their schooling, according to Mr. Sinyolo. As classroom professionals, they are often “seduced” by students and participate in unprotected sexual intercourse, he said.

“I have received reports of parents presenting their children to the local teacher for sex in return for a place in the classroom” in African nations, Fred van Leeuwen, the general secretary of Education International, told the worldwide coalition of education employees’ unions at its meeting in Thailand last month. “This appalling practice is a disgrace to our profession; it undermines almost everything we try to do to promote quality education for all, and we must stop it.”

Mr. Sinyolo said the disease has run rampant, in part, because it is taboo in Zimbabwe both to talk about AIDS and to use condoms as a preventive measure during sexual intercourse.

Even those who do learn of their infection cannot afford the drugs to fight the illness, he said. The medicinal “cocktails” needed to stave off AIDS or subdue its effects cost thousands of dollars more than the average worker earns annually.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the August 08, 2001 edition of Education Week as AFT Aims To Enlist African Teachers In War on AIDS

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
Teaching Live Online Discussion How to Develop Powerful Project-Based Learning
How do you prepare students to be engaged, active, and empowered young adults? Creating a classroom atmosphere that encourages students to pursue critical inquiry and the many skills it requires demands artful planning on the
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Safe Return to Schools is Possible with Testing
We are edging closer to a nationwide return to in-person learning in the fall. However, vaccinations alone will not get us through this. Young children not being able to vaccinate, the spread of new and
Content provided by BD

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Spotlight Spotlight on Social Emotional Learning
In this Spotlight, learn where things should start, evaluate what child-development experts are saying, plus more.
Student Well-Being What the Research Says CDC: Lags in Childhood Vaccines Could Spark Outbreaks in Other Illnesses
Regular childhood immunizations haven't caught up to pre-COVID-19 levels, and schools are urged to take steps now to stem outbreaks.
4 min read
Image of a band aid being applied after a vaccination.
iStock/Getty
Student Well-Being Opinion A Writing Exercise That Helps Students Build Resilience
When kids write about their successes, they also think about all they had to overcome—which helps both confidence and capability.
Brady K. Jones
2 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Getty
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Sponsor
Breathe Easier About In-Person Learning
Blueair’s Guide To Using Relief Funding For Cleaner Air 
Content provided by Blueair