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Section 6: Action with the community


This section is designed to help you:

- select a ‘community’ of people with whom to work; and
- select and organize community projects related to HIV/AIDS health promotion.

Guidelines for action with the community

When you have finished the health promotion programme with your youth group, the group members may want to carry out an HIV/AIDS project in their local community.

This section gives examples of different types of community projects related to preventing the spread of HIV and other STD, and to the care and support of people affected by HIV/AIDS.

Before deciding which project you and the youth group members would like to initiate, think about the following points.

Choosing a community to work with

Community can mean different things to different people. Some think of a community as a certain geographical area, such as a village, a city, a neighbourhood, or a rural area. However, community can also be thought of as a group of people who share common interests, values, background, experiences or activities such as school, work, religion and recreation.

First, you can identify with your youth group the different communities that exist in your local area. What do you already know about the people? What are their needs in relation to HIV/AIDS information? Are there any communities that are at special risk? You will have to do some local research to be able to discuss this fully. If you can work with programmes that already exist in your area, it will ensure that the work you wish to do is appropriate and needed.

After discussion, you can decide which group of the community you want to work with. For example, your own families, school groups, people in the local markets, mothers’ groups, out-of-school youth, etc.

Selecting your project

The project that you and your group select should:

1. Respond to the needs of the community you have chosen

Focus-group discussions with the community, similar to those you had with your own youth group, can help you to clarify the needs of this group of people.

Real action

A youth group in Zambia, after studying HIV/AIDS themselves, decided to start a project and chose the local school as the project site. To find out what sort of HIV/AIDS information was needed, they prepared some questions for the school group including: What do the students already know about HIV/AIDS? Is their information correct? What are their fears and concerns about HIV/AIDS? Which methods would be the most effective in helping them to reduce their chances of contracting HIV?

2. Be based on the abilities of the youth group

Choose a project and activities that the youth group feels they will be able to carry out. You must, therefore, consider their abilities in a wide range of activities: talking, teaching, caring, writing, drawing, organizing, singing, acting, etc.

If you attempt anything too difficult at first, the members will soon lose confidence and the momentum of your programme will be lost.

3. Consider the available resources

Examples of resources are:

youth members’ time: number of hours, time during the day/evening;

meeting place: public building, health centre, central place in village with shade or cover;

transport: truck, car, scooter, bicycle, horse;

funds: money from your own organization, from local, regional or national programmes, or from private companies;

light for working at night: electricity, paraffin, candles, torches;

materials for making, for example, posters, puppets, leaflets; and

resources from the target community.

4. Actively involve the target community

Most of the time, we forget or underestimate the need for involving the community. Remember that it is only when the community participates in both defining the extent and the nature of the problem and seeking solutions for the problem that it can be effectively addressed. So always involve the community and carefully incorporate its material, financial and know-how resources.

Then, think about what activities you and the youth group would like to do. Look through the examples of community projects described further in this section. Which do you think will respond to the needs, interests, size and age of the community you have chosen?

Remember, the activities described in Section 5, Activities with youth groups, can also be adapted as appropriate to your community work.

Pre-test the materials you develop for your project

When your group develops materials to be used for their community project (posters, leaflets, cartoons, etc.) pre-test them to make sure they are appropriate for the target audience and that people understand the message. Appendix III: Guidelines for pretesting health educational materials describes how to do this.

Planning the best time

It is very important to choose the right time for starting your community project. Think about where the people of this community generally meet, which day of the week and at what time of the day. Places where people often have to wait, such as in train or bus stations or outside the health centre, can be good places to put on short plays or songs followed by discussion. When working, for example, with a local school or with a factory, get advice from the relevant authorities on the most appropriate time to carry out the activities you have planned. Fairs, festivals and big sports events may provide an excellent opportunity to reach a large audience. For such an event, you can try to persuade a popular public figure, for example a singer or sports champion, to come along and support your project.

Another way of ensuring that you have an audience is to take part in a national event by organizing the local response. Every year, 1 December is World AIDS Day. On that day, UNAIDS supports national and international events to encourage people to spread the word about how AIDS is affecting the world. To find out more about this event and how you might get involved you can contact UNAIDS. The address is in the Resource section (see page 167).

How can we maintain the project’s momentum?

Young people can get easily bored if they are doing the same thing over and over again. The enthusiasm generated at the beginning of the programme may be lost, particularly if they can’t see major changes being made or cease to feel included. Equally, the task may seem too big or take too long to complete. Try to involve the youth group in all discussions about changes to the project and ask their advice. Make sure tasks are achievable in a reasonable timeframe. Give praise where praise is due – people get disheartened when they feel their work is not being noticed. Make sure that youth members don’t get overtired. They need to pace their work and get plenty of rest.

How will we know that we have helped our community to learn more about HIV/AIDS?

At regular intervals you will need to know whether you are meeting the needs of the chosen community. To do this, you can repeat the focus-group discussions you began with, or you could try out the quiz from the activities section. By doing this you will not only find out whether people have understood the information you have tried to put across, but you will also identify what they want to know next.

Bring your youth group together again to discuss the findings from their focus-group discussions. It may be necessary to make changes in the programme. What went well and why? What were the problems? What would be fun and interesting to try next? Make sure there is plenty of time to organize new activities; don’t hurry your plans. Time spent in preparation saves time later on.

Some ideas for community projects

Information-sharing projects

There are many ways to share information about HIV/AIDS and other STD. Here we present some that have been used successfully in different parts of the world. It is important to carefully consider the messages that you want to convey to the community. They should be clear and simple and, whenever possible, given in the local language.

Examples of information sharing projects include:

Drama and puppetry

You can develop the role-play situations that you tried out with the youth group into full plays which you can then act for the local community groups, for example, in schools, youth clubs and factories. You may also ask local professional actors and/or community members to participate. You will get the play’s messages across more effectively if, at the end of the play, you discuss with the audience their reaction to the situation described in the play.

Puppets can do things that actors may find embarrassing or difficult to express for cultural reasons – particularly in the context of HIV/AIDS messages. Puppets can present stereotypes without causing offence and introduce humour into a sensitive subject. The audience gets just as involved with the characters that the puppets represent, and can also ask the puppets questions after the puppet show.

Music, dance and poetry

Expressing health messages or emotions through music, dance or poetry can have a powerful effect on your audience. It is easier to remember a line that rhymes, especially if it is put to music or expressed in a dance.



Posters (large sheets of paper with words and pictures or symbols that convey a message) can be used in many ways as part of a health promotion campaign in the community.

A poster can present a specific health promotion message to the community in general, for example, ‘How to prevent AIDS’. The posters are then placed in locations where people are likely to go, such as markets, churches, communal meeting places, health clinics, etc.

You may need permission to put up posters in some locations. Be sure to ask first, before posting anything.

A poster can announce an event, for example, to invite people to a puppet show you are going to present in the local market.

A poster can be used for group discussions or presentations. Use of posters in this way is very similar to using pictures or photographs. (See: Pictures and photographs, in Appendix I: Guidelines for educational techniques.)

The youth group can create their own posters, or you can organize a poster contest, for example as part of a school campaign. There are many ways to design posters. You can cut out pictures from old magazines and paste them on the paper, draw or paint the pictures you need, or copy or trace designs/pictures. When you make a poster:

make sure all the words you use are in the local language;

use as few words as possible;

use symbols that everyone can understand – those who cannot read as well those who can; and

select just one important message. Too many ideas on one poster can be confusing.

Comic books and cartoons

Comic books or cartoons are an attractive way to attract people’s attention, especially young people. When the text is limited, they are easy to read and understand, even for people with a low literate level.

Articles in the newspapers – or your own newspaper!

If you have young people in your group with good writing skills, they may send articles to local newspapers, or create their own newspaper!

Real action

Straight Talk and Trendsetters are both newspapers created and written by young people in Africa. In a very entertaining style, they address issues of relationships, safer sex and young people’s sexual health concerns. (See: Resource list.)

Radio spots

When available, local radio stations are often very willing to get involved in health education programmes. Designing an exciting message that can be put out regularly by the local radio can be fun and a useful learning experience. It is very important that the messages are given in the local language and they fill in gaps in people’s knowledge. (Focus-group discussions can provide this information.) The message should be short and to the point. Put the radio spot on at a time when people are most likely to be listening. A popular tune to introduce the spot will catch their attention.


An example:


“Young people like us don’t have to be worried about AIDS, if we learn how to keep safe. Find out all you need to know from your local health centre. They provide confidential advice and information and the staff is waiting to meet you on Fridays.”


AIDS is with us, here to stay

Don’t just think it will go away

Make sure you listen to your radio station

It will give you your AIDS information!

(More music to follow)

Television spots

Television is becoming more popular in many countries, but still out of reach for many people in the developing world. As a television spot is very expensive, you may try to get sponsorship from a commercial company.


Most of the activities described above such as drama, radio spots, posters, etc., are very useful to reach large audiences. They are effective in giving information, raising awareness and exploring attitudes regarding HIV/AIDS.

However, when the aim is to change the behaviour of a target group which is particularly vulnerable to HIV infection (for example, street youth), person-to-person communication has proved to be more effective. For that purpose, the youth group may organize info-corners in areas where the target audience is likely to gather. An info-corner, equipped with educational materials (e.g., leaflets and posters), provides an opportunity to have personal communication with those who show interest in the materials.

Care and support projects

There are many ways in which your youth group can assist people affected by HIV/AIDS. What you decide to do will depend on the needs of the people you wish to assist, the interests of your group, and the resources available in your community. Remember that it is important to work with other people and community agencies, such as health workers, churches, women’s groups, traditional healers and local leaders when you plan your project.

Examples of projects include:

Income-generating projects

When it is a family’s wage earner who is ill, the other family members may be left with no other sources of income. Youth members can assist communities to set up projects that generate income, so that the families of people who are ill have a means to earn money. Such projects can also be run by young people to help orphans with school fees and other basic needs.

If you want to offer help directly to people living with AIDS and their families, it is important to work with the local health unit whenever possible. Working with a recognized community agency will help ensure that the help you want to offer is needed and that it will be coordinated with other services being offered.

Local health workers can help you identify and plan which care projects are most appropriate for the youth group members to carry out locally. They can also help to organize the training and support needed when caring for people living with AIDS.

Read through the ideas suggested in this section, discuss them with the youth group and think about how you might adapt the ideas to make them appropriate in your culture.

Physical care

People living with AIDS are often weak and unable to help themselves. Young people may help the health-care worker and the family to make the person more comfortable, or may be able to look after a person living with AIDS for a short time so that the family can have a rest.

Emotional support

People living with AIDS may be frightened, sad or depressed. They may be afraid of dying or worried about what will happen to their family after they are gone. Some of these things may be difficult for them to talk about with those who are closest to them, and it may help them to have regular visits from someone who will listen and with whom they can share their feelings.

Material support

In some communities, the lack of items such as soap, plastic and cotton sheets, clothing and food supplements makes it difficult to care for people living with AIDS. Lack of basic items may also be a problem for the family, particularly the children, if the wage earner is ill. Your youth group may be able to collect and distribute needed items such as clothing, food and bedding.

Helping with domestic chores

When an adult member of the family is ill, it may be difficult for families to carry out all their usual domestic chores. Youth members can help with looking after children, shopping, growing or harvesting food, running errands, or cooking a meal.


Educating the family

The families of people living with AIDS may not know a great deal about HIV/AIDS and may be fearful that they will get HIV if they care for their sick relative or friend. By befriending a person living with AIDS and talking with the family about the ways in which HIV is and is not spread, you may be able to reassure them.

Support for families after the death of someone

The need for support does not stop with the death of someone from AIDS. Youth group members should continue to befriend and support those left behind.

In providing a service for people living with AIDS, youth group members will become involved in the progression of the illness. They should be given an opportunity to discuss their worries and fears with someone they trust. Many young people will find working with people affected by HIV/AIDS easier if they work in small teams, rather than individually. They can then share their feelings with other members of the team. Most communities have traditional ways of dealing with illness, dying and death.

If the person group members have been caring for dies, they should be given appropriate support. A local person who has been trained in counselling may be available to assist the youth group both in caring for people living with AIDS and in the making sure that the youth members do not become depressed or overwhelmed by the problems associated with AIDS.