Students Mark World AIDS Day

Over 150 students gathered together yesterday to mark World AIDS Day with a special Mass celebrated by Father Mark Hogan at St Joseph’s church in Basingstoke. 

Pupils from Bishop Challoner and guests from St George’s, St Anne’s and Farnborough Hill met up to reflect on the 34 million people living with HIV in the world and the 9 million still in need of treatment who do not have access.

But this World AIDS Day was particularly special because after 30 years and 30 million deaths, a recent breakthrough in science has given us the chance to bring HIV and AIDS to an end within a generation.

This is because HIV treatment is proven to reduce the risk of transmission now by 96%.

Combined with other effective prevention methods and addressing the root causes , we have the first chance ever to really break the cycle of infections, save millions of lives and billions in future treatment costs.

For the first time since the epidemic began, the end of AIDS is a credible possibility.   But we know that millions who need treatment still cannot access it. A modest increase in funding in the short term, and focus on the most at-risk groups could save 12 million lives by 2020.

At the end of Mass, pupils watched a short film and everyone was invited to put their name to a special letter to David Cameron which asks him to commit himself to bringing about an end to the AIDS crisis and make this a government priority.

In the afternoon, we explored the whole issue of poverty in more depth focussing on one specific community in Korogocho, just outside Nairobi in Kenya.  Korogocho is the fourth largest slum in Nairobi. Around 100,000 people live on an area of government owned land, roughly the size of 150 football pitches and 70,000 of them are young people.

Lots of people who used to be farmers in the countryside have moved to Nairobi. Climate change means the rains are more unpredictable. Drinking water is scarce.  Crops don’t grow well and cattle have very little grass to graze on. There are few other jobs in rural areas so people are leaving the countryside.

Students looked at the BBC South news report of the Oaklands students’ visit to CAFOD partners in Korogocho last June ( ) and could see for themselves some of the challenges people faced.

We then played a game (called ‘All to play for’) which is based on the experiences of young people living in Korogocho and looks at the causes of poverty and possible solutions.

The game is based on handball and we used a ball made from recycled plastic bags (which are used by CAFOD partner St John’s Sports Society in Korogocho).  The ball is meant to represent all the obstacles that prevent people getting rid of poverty in Korogocho and has causes of poverty stuck all over it.  Each cause is removed every time a team score a goal and a solution is given.  Random forfeits are given out as well!  My team destroyed our homemade ball!!!  They were so good!

Afterwards we had a look at the ways in which we’re all involved in working together to combat poverty.  We looked at some of the activities the young people in Korogocho are doing ( )   and the ways we can take action in solidarity with them by reducing our own carbon footprint, lobbying our government and world leaders to change the structures that keep people poor and supporting CAFOD to work alongside people by helping to establish co-operatives, develop skills and deliver training.

We ended the day by offering two challenges. Firstly, we asked everyone who attended to run the ‘All to play for’ game with the rest of their year groups back in school ( ) and secondly – we asked everyone to check out our greatgeneration website to find out what else they could do to fight global poverty.

(A film which explains the ‘All to play for game’ is now available on CAFOD tv  )

Our thanks go to School Chaplain Jill Kiddle and Virginia O’Kelly (School Librarian) for all their hard work and for organising the whole day.   Thank you too to Father Mark, all the readers, Siobhan who organises the music, the fab singers and musicians – and all the staff at Bishop Challoner and all the visiting staff members too. And of course – all the pupils – who really made the whole day.  Thank you all!

Breaking News!  David Cameron has now made a statement.  He stressed that the British government is signed up to the efforts of individuals, campaigners, charities and governments in the AIDS response, and is committed through its international aid promises and support for the Global Fund.   Nick Clegg acknowledged that with scientific advances in prevention we now have the potential to turn the tide on epidemic and “…set our sights on a world that is free finally of HIV”.

Take a look at our website to see David Cameron talking about this issue –   Thank you everyone for campaigning yesterday!  It makes a difference!

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