To never have to start a sentence with "I wish I would have..."


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Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Sexual Network

AIDS is a problem in Uganda. I live in Rakai district, the first place in Uganda to be hit by HIV/AIDS. It’s apparent just by looking around how heavily impacted my community has been by the virus; there is an entire generation missing. We have primary schools and vocational schools whose sole purpose is to offer an affordable education to orphans in the area. With the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, you’d think my students would be more educated on the topic. I was surprised to find how shocked they were that HIV can spread so quickly through the sexual network. The sexual network is a common term in Uganda used to describe the web-like structure between people and their sexual partners. Person A sleeps with person B, who is also sleeping with person C. Person C is sleeping with person D and E who are both sleeping with persons F, G, and H. Before you know it you have an entire community sleeping with each other and a widespread breakout of (insert STD/STI/HIV).

I did an activity with my girls’ club this week that I later repeated with my entire student body, all 300+ of them, and tutors at the college. The activity goes like this…You give every person a notecard. Some notecards are blank and others have symbols or instructions to follow. One notecard says “DO NOT shake hands with anyone else.” Two notecards say “Find the other person with the * symbol. Shake only his or her hand.” One notecard has an X on it and another has a C on it. After everyone is given a notecard and told to follow the instructions on the card, if there are any, the participants begin to shake each other’s hands. After you give participants time to “mingle,” you bring them back together to explain the purpose of the activity. As you may have guessed, shaking hands symbolizes having sex with a person. In the activity, the person who did not shake anyone else’s hand was practicing abstinence and did not contract HIV or STDs. The two people with the *symbol were in a faithful, monogamous relationship and did not contract HIV or STDs. The person with the X was HIV positive. Everyone who shook this person’s hand contracted the virus. Everyone who shook any of those people’s hands also contracted the virus and so on and so on. The person with the C on their notecard was wearing a condom and was practicing safe sex. Their risk of contracting HIV was much lower than the participants not using condoms.

The point of the activity is to show how the sexual network works and for students to see how quickly and easily STDs and HIV can spread. My girls were shocked. When I repeated the activity the next morning with my first and second years at the college, they were shocked. My tutors who also sat in on the activity were shocked! These people know how HIV is spread. It is drilled into their brains from an early age, yet having a physical representation in front of their eyes still managed to surprise them.

After the activity I allowed the students to openly ask questions, and boy did they have questions! I think this was the first time since the beginning of the term that I had a full classroom. My students are deprived of this information. They are not used to openly discussing sex and getting their questions answered. Living in a Catholic parish makes talking about sex and condom use a little controversial and my students were so appreciative to have the opportunity to discuss the topic. I have to admit, I was surprised with how open and honest I was being with my students. These are kids my age if not older and I was talking to them about the difference between using a condom and using a plastic bag as a contraceptive!

The level of ignorance continues to surprise me, and I have taught my students about sex and the reproductive systems multiple times. I’m going to take some of my girls from the girls’ club to the primary school next week to do the activity with them. I know, shocking that such an activity should be taught to 10 and 12 years old girls but the reality is that these girls are the ones who need it the most. They call sexual intercourse “playing sex” because it’s a game for them to do when they get bored. If anyone has tips or activity suggestions to teach sex ed or STD spread, please let me know!

I’ve officially been a PCV for 6 months now. I can’t believe it’s already November! 6 more weeks until Mom and the girls come to visit. Hope everyone is doing well and keeping warm. I miss you all so much!



  1. Only one abstinence card???

  2. To Anonymous: Really?? Really? Did you not read that there were 300 students, plus? I think to save space & explain what was on each note card, or better yet break down examples ie: 30 cards were blank, 50 cards had an "X", 80 cards had the * symbol, etc, you misunderstood only one card that represented abstinence. And, to cowardly comment anonymous....maybe was an attempt at humor! But, HIV is not a joke!

  3. I am so impressed, Ashley. To even begin to teach such a subject. And, it seems as if you are doing it with grace and ease. I certainly do respect what you are doing over there...and if you can educate this age group, imagine what good you are doing. The countdown continues...sooo looking forward to our holiday visit! Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your Peace Corps family. Love you very much...


    This article on sex ed in Tanzania using murals created with students was pretty interesting and reminded me of this post. Best part is the pictures of the different murals
    Hope you like it,