In Namibia, a five-man a cappella group, Vocal Motion 6 (VM6), and an HIV-positive woman, Herlyn Uiras, take to the road once a month to bring prevention, stigma reduction, and positive living messages to high school students all over the country with music and the telling of Ms. Uiras' personal story.
A typical visit begins with their mini-van and trailer emblazoned with a portrait of VM6 and Ms. Uiras under the banner heading "The Living Positive Tour," pulling up to a school where excited students are taking their places on a playground or in an auditorium.
Performances begin with the band's unique rendition of the Namibian national anthem. The five-part harmony captivates the audience. After band members introduce themselves with personal messages and another song, Ms. Uiras begins an extended conversation - interspersed with songs, role playing, and interactive games - with the audience in which she tells her story of how she contracted HIV after being raped by a truck driver while joyriding to Johannesburg, South Africa. She asks students to take a lesson from her life and tells them that she is proud to use her HIV-positive status to help others. Audience members react to Ms. Uiras, often embracing and accepting her. For many, it is the first opportunity to come into contact with a person who has had the courage to declare her status.
Question-and-answer sessions follow performances, and there are always many questions - often tough and some emotional - for Ms. Uiras and for the young men of VM6, all dedicated to being role models in the fight against HIV/AIDS. They answer blunt questions from the students about HIV testing, sex, and relationships. Questions and conversation continue as band members and Ms. Uiras, surrounded by students, pack up microphones and sound equipment and get ready to depart. Often, a school administrator approaches the tour manager to ask when the tour can make a return visit. At one school, a principal stated that this was the most important thing the students had heard, and if it didn't change behavior, nothing would. He then followed the tour to the next school with his video camera.
The U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) supported a pilot project with VM6 and Ms. Uiras in July 2007. The tour first visited the critical northern regions of Namibia for a week and performed in front of enthusiastic students and teachers at schools and churches in the towns of Oshakati, Ongwediva, Rundu, and Grootfontein.
After the successful pilot, the Living Positive Tour expanded to include three more week-long tours. In October 2007, the tour performed at eleven high schools and colleges in the capital city of Windhoek. On Namibia's coast in December 2007, the tour experimented with different audiences by departing from its typical youth outreach to bring its HIV/AIDS messages to the general public at holiday events, on the beaches, and at town halls as well as to at-risk populations including prisons, a refugee camp, and a marginalized ethnic community, the Toppenaurs. In February 2008, the tour went south to high schools and churches in Rehoboth, Mariental, Keetmanshoop, and Karasburg. By the end of the February tour, the group had performed in front of almost 26,000 Namibians - roughly 80% of them between the ages of 15 and 24, the target population - in six months.
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