In hard times - especially politically - culture has often been the regulator for people's anger, frustration and struggle to change. When it comes to AIDS, the cultural perspective has been used to a limited degree and in various contexts. Especially music artists and film makers have done quite a lot to put the light on HIV and AIDS work, and there are some organisations that have realised the importance of using cultural specific methods for a successful HIV prevention work.

The Cultural Perspective

9. The Cultural Perspective

How is culture affected by people getting infected and dying of a disease, especially one so strongly linked to sex? Can AIDS affect the culture, and if so, in which ways, and can culture affect the HIV pandemic? The presence of AIDS in the world has not only affected the content of art, music and theatre. It has also evolved to be a medium/method to reach people with different types of messages, which play an important role in the preventive work.
When I say culture, I refer to activities where different cultural media e.g. theatre, TV, film, sport, and art are used to transfer feelings, ideas and messages.
If we take an example from South Africa, where parents living with HIV or AIDS make small boxes, which they ornamented in various ways. Here family members in communities affected by AIDS are encouraged to tell their life stories. In the context of HIV/AIDS, ‘resilience’ is defined as the ability of children to develop to their full potential, to learn to cope with absence, and understand the value of their family history. The memories of ones parents are kept in a “memory box”, which contains the story of the deceased parents, as well as various personal objects and memorabilia. The parents will put the memory objects in the boxes and write messages, good recommendations and various fairy tales and/or family stories. Their children will have these boxes as a memory of their parents, after they have died of AIDS. Thus, the "memory boxes" can be regarded as something transferring cultural expressions from one generation to another.

The use of creativity and the arts can play an effective, non-formal education tool, particularly resourceful for sensitising young people to HIV and AIDS. Dance, hip hop, puppetry and shadow theatre, painting, graffiti, poetry, screenwriting, textile design and fashion can all be used as compelling forms of “edutainment”.
Indeed, visual arts, music and other forms of creative expressions can greatly impact individuals and communities through their portrayal of social concerns, addressing sensitive issues such as poverty, discrimination and sexuality.
Other media that can act as information channels to inform and raise awareness about HIV and AIDS among people are films, paintings, texts and music of various kind as well as documents of different types. Another example is where football is used as a method or in a specific context in order to reach young men with information about HIV in Zambia, and in this sense promote the understanding of how condom knowledge/use can prevent people from becoming infected.
Chiparamba is a football club, located outside Lusaka, Zambia. At the end of November each year, they host a football tournament called Fair Play to Fight AIDS. The finals are held on the first of December, the International World AIDS Day. In connection with the tournament, which attracts many spectators, players and others, communication materials and condoms are available.

I have experienced many other examples of culture being used as a tool to reach people with an understanding of the disease and guidance to a “healthier” way of living. In Hargeisa, Somaliland, one of the few women organisations arranged a poetry session about HIV/AIDS. In this sense, AIDS became a part of the very old poetry tradition in Somalia, and poetry a part of the fight against AIDS.

In HIV prevention, I have always stressed the importance of using Cultural Specific Methods to reach the groups of people that different activities are aiming to reach.
This means that there is a need for understanding of other cultures, sexual orientation, the importance of involving both women and men in the work, and to give recognition to sex workers and drug users. The knowledge and understanding of the people we are working for (and with) is essential for being able to provide proper services, and for organisations to develop in a good and stable way. This mindset has also to go with the choice of methods/media, which is relevant for the different groups of people we should reach when working on HIV prevention.

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