6 May 2005

Namibia: RACE Sets Record Straight


THIS letter is in response to the article, "Peace Corps Targets Schools" in the April 15th 2005 edition of New Era. As the RACE coordinators, we feel that we must address the misrepresentation of the Regional Aids Committee of Education (RACE) in the article.

The directors of the Oha-ngwena and Oshikoto Education Region support the following statements.

In our interview with Mr Toivo Mvula, we clearly stated that our position in RACE is part of the Ministry of Education structure. However, the article portrayed RACE as a U.S. Peace Corps initiative. In reality, the Peace Corps only assists Ministry of Education programming by providing volunteers. We are volunteers serving as staff in the Ministry and we represent ourselves as education officials. It is not Peace Corps targeting the schools: it is the Ministry of Education working hand in hand with school communities.

All RACE activities stem from the National Policy on HIV and AIDS for the Education sector, which was developed by the ministries of Education. RACE is mandated to coordinate the im-plementation of the policy. We as the coordinators are here to assist RACE in that mandate. While the end of the article briefly explains RACE activities, we believe the article in its entirety diminishes the central role of the committee.

As directed by the policy, RACE focuses on four areas of implementation: prevention, care and support, workplace issues and management. We focus on each of these areas equally, as the committee believes each is crucial to fighting the epidemic. Condom availability, stipulated in the policy, is only one aspect of prevention programming, and a small part of our work in RACE. However, the article portrays condom distribution as our main activity.

It also erroneously depicts RACE as forcing sexual healthy education upon communities. In fact, we only go to communities and schools when asked to do so. Moreover, we distribute condoms only upon request and in an age-appropriate manner. Some parent communities are reluctant to address HIV and AIDS and sexual health. Yet, there are many more which are supportive of RA-CE's work and are excited to collaborate with RACE, as they understand the need for a collective response. This is demonstrated by overwhelming requests for materials, school visits and assistance.

The article inaccurately portrays RACE as targeting primary schools for condom distribution and sex education Actually, RACE works with all schools but places special emphasis on the secondary level. Again, we distribute materials (educational leaflets, posters and con-doms) to schools upon request.

Many principals and teachers of primary schools request materials because they see their learners are becoming sexually active. The school management then distributes the materials to the learners in an age-appropriate manner.

We are trying to prepare our young people for a healthy future by addressing all four areas of implementation. As correctly stated in the article, RACE does not want to leave learners "blind" without the proper skills and tools to protect themselves. More emphasis in the article should have been placed on life skills and sexual healthy education than condom distribution. That would reflect the true allocation of the committee's priorities.

While we appreciate the opportunity to publicize the committee's accomplishments, we feel that the true nature of RACE's work was not adequately represented for New Era's readers. We request that you place this response in your newspaper to rectify the misrepresentations outlined above. Thank you for your commitment to solid and accurate journalism.

A copy of this letter has been sent to the Minister of Education, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education, and the directors of both the Ohangwena and Oshikoto Educational regions.

Lauren Loveland, RACE Coordinator for Ohangwena Region

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