A quarter a century after the discovery of HIV, the number of people living with the virus has risen to about 40 million. according to the latest statistics from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, over 4 million people were newly infected in 2006.
There have been more new HIV infections each year than AIDS-related deaths, but as more people become infected with HIV, more people will die of AIDS-related illnesses. It is against this backdrop that Mwanyagetinge decided to organize the Calling All Youth Tune-Up For Life event on December 2nd to educate Kenyan youth in Minneapolis on the dangers of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Mwanyagetinge was founded seventeen years ago as a welfare organization with the aim of helping Kenyan immigrants in Minnesota. In the beginning, Mwanyagetinge primarily dealt with immigration issues and emergencies, such as illness or death. It transformed into a non-profit social service agency in 2004, moving from their practice of fund raising to create a benevolent fund which can be accessed upon immediate need. It recently received a $250,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Health to assist with its health and HIV awareness programs.
Calling All Youth Tune-Up For Life was sponsored by Moneygram and organized by a committee led by Marcellus Mayaka, the Health Programs Coordinator for Mwanyagetinge. They applied the novel approach of having the young people’s peers as the main presenters for the event, which kept the audience engaged and attentive. They also had various literature available, including answers to the most frequently asked questions on HIV/AIDS and magazines featuring testimonies of people living with HIV.
The event was kicked off by Nancy King’ori, a high school student, who chose people at random to come up to introduce themselves and say why they had attended the function. This helped break the ice and loosen up the audience, establishing the informal tone of the evening.
Loice Oburu, a coordinator with Mwanyagetinge, then had everyone disband into focus groups, each with a topic to be discussed and later presented to the entire gathering. This offered the opportunity for each member of the group to be actively involved in the discussions and to have their concerns or views aired. The issues discussed included the difference between HIV and AIDS, the effect of poverty on AIDS and the relationship between the abuse of drugs/alcohol and AIDS.
Dinner was followed by a fashion show where models displayed various types of traditional African dress to a loudly cheering and jubilant room. Several models posed for their pictures to be taken as the crowd roared and clapped its approval. The mood turned decisively lighter as two comedians played out a skit where they took turns taking anecdotal potshots at each other.
The intermission was followed by a twenty minute Hip Hop styled documentary from Health Beats encouraging abstinence as a deterrent and HIV testing for those who are sexually active. Jacob Basweti, a Red Cross certified HIV instructor specialized in African Americans, then took a moment to address any lingering questions that had not been answered or any that had arisen from the documentary.
There was then an interlude where Elijah Ichwara sang his Swahili sonnet, Je nini Ukimwi? (What is AIDS?) after which Susan Nkoge performed her Swahili poem Jiepusheni Kabisa (Avoid completely). This was followed by Denis Okingo who performed his English poem, Once upon a time. The last presentation was an African traditional dance by several young ladies complete with African attire. The audience got so entertained that several members could not resist joining the dancers on stage.
The event was brought to a close by the Mwanyagetinge chairman, Paul Morande, who thanked the attendees and spoke on the importance of the youth as the future of society. He also stressed the need for AIDS awareness programs to education youth on the present dangers and thanked the sponsors for committing to that noble cause.
Further information on Mwanyagetinge activities can be found on their website www.mwanyagetinge.org or from their offices at 750 2nd street, suite 386 Hopkins, MN.