Kicking AIDS Out of the Caribbean

Francine MacDonald is a Kicking AIDS Out (KAO) Leader Level II based in Spanish Town, Jamaica. KAO, a Commonwealth Games Canada (CGC) partner program, offers an innovative, high-energy approach that links sport, physical activity and traditional movement games with HIV/AIDS prevention and education. Having originated in Africa, KAO is now being used in communities around the world, and was introduced in the Caribbean in 2008 with CGC’s support for the establishment of a Caribbean office. KAO currently operates in the Caribbean countries of Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Guyana, Grenada, St. Lucia, and St. Kitts and Nevis, in addition to Jamaica.

I work with Children First, an organization that works with street children and potential street children in Spanish Town, Jamaica. As a life skills instructor, I do Kicking AIDS Out sessions with students aged 17 to 25.

A life skills instructor is like a guidance counsellor. In these KAO sessions, we discuss things that parents don’t normally talk to their kids about: sex, using condoms, and peer pressure. If there’s a flare-up of violence in the community, as there was recently in Spanish Town, we talk about it and try to come up with solutions. It’s almost like a reasoning session. We talk about how to build self-esteem, and how to be assertive, not aggressive. Often, their parents aren’t there for them, and some of these young people are parents themselves. The main contributing factor is poverty.

I come from a large family, a poor family. I am the sixth child, and I have a brother with Down Syndrome. This program has helped me a lot. I was a shy child. Even as an adult I didn’t want to talk about myself or where I’d been. But I got help from Children First to go to school, and was later introduced to Kicking AIDS Out after being involved in the Caribbean Health Lifestyle Project (CHLP). I’m now more outspoken, and people see me as a role model. I’m in the process of studying to become a Social Work Associate at the University of the West Indies.

This program allows me to see the changes in other people’s lives. There’s a young girl I know named Altonisha Clarke. At first she was very shy, and didn’t want to talk about things like HIV, but now she is one of the KAO peer leaders. We’re expecting 30 to 35 participants at the upcoming KAO Caribbean workshop April 21st and 22nd, which will be run by two prospective Leader Level I interns from our community.

KAO is still new to the Caribbean, and I wish we could be doing more. I’m very passionate about this program. This is a seed that is going to blow far in terms of giving young people information about HIV and changing their behaviour—and their lives. Not long ago, we held a Health Fair here in Mandela Park, and the number of people who were having fun while learning was amazing. We used simple games to explain how HIV gets started. I was looking around and saying to myself, “We’re doing something incredible here. This is good.”