MCC Photo/Nina Linton

Dinah John and Angel Mathew (left to right) are part of an intergenerational team of women learning and sharing information about HIV and AIDS in Arusha, Tanzania.

ARUSHA, Tanzania – Tears flow freely at Binti Mama (daughter mother) gatherings as mothers and their teenage daughters talk openly about issues such as HIV and AIDS.

Led by an intergenerational team of students, teachers and women, the gatherings provide a safe setting for listening and learning across generations.

“They dance, sing, eat and share stories of what happened to them,” says Salome Lally, a program coordinator at Mwangaza Education for Partnerships. “People cry a lot when others tell their stories.”

Female students in secondary schools represent one of the highest risk groups for new infections of HIV in Tanzania, says Lally. To increase awareness and understanding, Mwangaza has incorporated HIV and AIDS training in its community health programs for over 10 years.

In partnership with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), Mwangaza now trains and supports intergenerational teams of women to lead seminars and be advocates for healthy lifestyles in their schools, churches and communities. Mwangaza is an educational partnership of Evangelical Lutheran Church congregations in Tanzania and the U.S.

Each team consists of 12 women from the same community – six students and two teachers from a Lutheran secondary school and four women from a Lutheran congregation near the school.

The training deals with HIV and AIDS, violence against women, life skills, conflict resolution and how health information, cultural practices and behaviors relate to healthy lifestyles. Participants learn how to use art, music, drama and presentations to share this knowledge with others.

Secondary school students Angel Mathew and Dinah John, both 17, represent the Nkoaranga Secondary School on an intergenerational team. Mathew said the training helped her understand how positive and negative peer pressure contributes to the rising incidence of HIV among secondary school students.

For some girls, sexual behavior is a way to obtain fashionable clothes and shoes, says Mathew. “We teach them how HIV is spread and how to avoid the infection. The best way to avoid the infection is to avoid the peer influence and the temptation of having valuable things.”

John says when the team makes presentations, it is not unusual for older women to be surprised that teenage girls have so much information on issues affecting girls and women. What she appreciates the most is the opportunity for her and other teenage girls to candidly ask older women about health issues.

“It is a good idea because there are information gaps in both generations – it is especially good because we can get information from them (older women).”

Gladys Terichow is a writer for MCC Canada.