It’s 4pm in Tanzania and school has finished for the day. But all over the country, groups of teenagers are still sitting in their classrooms. It’s not detention. It’s not extra maths. What these teenagers are talking about is far more interesting.
“We talk about puberty, sexuality, different lifestyles, emotions and problems we face in everyday life,” says Rebeca Gyumi, who lives in Dar es Salaam. “You find in the club you can discuss most things comfortably, things that you wouldn’t discuss with your parents.”
Rebeca is referring to the Fema Club, where students get together to discuss the latest edition of Fema, an innovative magazine produced by Femina Health Information Project (HIP). Femina HIP is a non-governmental organisation promoting healthy lifestyles among young people in Tanzania through magazines like Fema, a TV talk show, a radio programme and the Internet.
HIV and AIDS prevention messages play a key role in all of Femina HIP’s initiatives. And these messages are getting through. “Before I joined the Fema group, I thought HIV education was something that I didn’t need to know about. I thought I was too young,” says Rebeca. “But through the club I have seen that HIV involves young people as well – we are part and parcel of it. It’s not only you that can get HIV, but also us.”
Femina HIP staff member Bahati Mdtele says: “We know from feedback from our readers that we are changing a lot of Tanzanian young people. They say ‘through Fema I’ve changed, I was going with so many girls but because of Fema I use condoms, I protect myself.’’’
Much of Femina HIP’s success in changing young people’s attitudes is attributable to its participatory, ‘edutainment’ approach.
“It’s not about telling people how to live their lives,” explains CUSO-VSO volunteer Lynn O’Rourke, who has spent the last two years sharing her expertise in graphic design and production with her colleagues at Femina HIP. “The content of our magazines and shows comes from our journalists going out into communities, listening to what real people say and reporting back, using real case studies and testimonials and stories, featuring role models and allowing people to talk about their realities and find their own solutions.”
The resulting material is lively, honest and informative. It’s unsurprising that Femina HIP has become a popular lifestyle brand for young people throughout the country. And with Fema magazine being distributed in 1,500 schools and discussed and debated by 450 Fema Clubs, some of which number up to 100 students, Femina HIP is undoubtedly playing a crucial role in slowing the spread of HIV and AIDS in Tanzania.