A majority of students attending Vocational School #70 in St. Petersburg, Russia, come from disadvantaged families or state institutions. And while senior caretaker, Marina Georgievna Kozhevnikova, understood that life was difficult for most of the children she cared for, she wanted her students to rise above their current situation. But time and time again, Marina witnessed many of her students succumb to the temptations and dangers that are ever present after the school building closes.
In an effort to remedy this situation, Marina began speaking with her students about HIV/AIDS. What began as a discussion that focused solely on HIV in the context of drug abuse quickly expanded into a dialogue about HIV/AIDS that encompassed prevention methods in all areas of HIV transmission.
Marina admitted that her knowledge of HIV was limited when she first started to speak with her students about HIV.
"It was hard for me to talk about it. I always wanted to avoid the topic," she said.
But Marina's drive for conversation was fully ignited when she learned that her school had agreed to participate in an HIV prevention program supported by the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
Enthusiastic and eager to get involved with the program, Marina created a "Health Council" for Vocational School #70, which was made up of active students and staff members who assembled to conduct HIV prevention events and inform students about HIV. Health Council members attend PEPFAR-supported training seminars where they receive important information about HIV and meet with representatives from local organizations conducting HIV prevention work among youth in St. Petersburg.
Marina has since helped other schools establish their own Health Councils and has trained peer counselors, teachers and other employees in neighboring vocational and technical schools.
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