AN Ennis youth worker is heading to Swaziland next week to work with teenagers who have been affected by AIDS.
Amy Hanna 19, the daughter of Canon Bob and Reverend Patricia Hanna, will head to the impoverished country to help up to 120 teenagers who have Aids, or have lost a parent or parents through Aids.
Amy will be with 11 other Irish young people, all from the greater Dublin region, who are involved with this project with The Leprosy Mission (TLM) Ireland.
The organisation is the oldest branch of The Leprosy Mission International and is globally recognised as a world leader in leprosy care, cure, rehabilitation and prevention. In recent years, the work of TLM has branched out to include people in third world countries whose lives have been affected by Aids.
Amy, a past pupil of St Flannan’s College, is a youth worker with the Church of Ireland Diocesan Youth Ministry, which covers Clare, Limerick, North Tipperary.
“Through that, I’ve been involved in a lot of voluntary work, including fundraising, summer camps and training projects. I heard about this project of The Leprosy Missions through my youth leader, Vicky Lynch. I will be the only one from Clare and even the Mid-West going to Swaziland,” she explained.
She has completed one year of theology in Trinity College Dublin but has reapplied through the CAO system this year to do Deaf Studies, also in Trinity College.
Three years ago, she did voluntary work in Calcutta with the Hope Foundation.
“I worked with orphans, hands-on work caring for them. The experience was a real eye-opener and I knew doing it that I very much wanted to do more work of this kind. Once I heard about this project in Swaziland, I knew I wanted to be involved,” she commented.
She added that the plan is that she and the other volunteers will do art and drama with the local teenagers. “Creative activities like art and drama are not something that they’ve been open to. The aim of the programme is to create an environment where we can talk openly with them about safe sex, healthy relationships and protecting themselves. We will have three days of intensive training from counsellors with the missions group over there before we meet with the local teenagers,” Amy remarked.
The project aims to use peer pressure in a good way.
“We will tell them about our experiences here in a bid to open their eyes to a different and better way of living. We want to help them understand that you don’t have to have sex with someone to be accepted, that there are other important parts to a relationship, including communication and friendship. We also want to help to build their self-awareness and assertiveness, so they can make better informed decisions,” she added.
Amy said that through TLM Ireland, she has been made aware that 15% of households in Swaziland are headed by a child.
“That is terribly sad, in my opinion. Many children are orphaned quite young and the eldest in a family is left to look after the younger children. There are situations where there are 15 or 16-year-olds minding four, five or six younger children in their family,” she commented.
Approximately 40% of the population of Swaziland have HIV or Aids and the figure has been consistently at this level for many years.
“Aids is a huge problem over there. Very little resources have been put into sex education there, so projects of this kind are very important. I’m privileged to get the opportunity to do this and hope that this project will run and grow in the years to come,” Amy said.
A spokesman for TLM Ireland confirmed that Amy is part of a group of 12 Irish people involved in this project in Swaziland from August 8 to 22.
“Internationally, TLM is working closely with The Anglican Church in Swaziland, helping to design an HIV/Aids reduction programme. The statistical data of the disease is horrifying. In Swaziland, which in June 2007 had a population of about 1.1 million, the prevalence of HIV Aids was about 26 % among the sexually-active age groups, rising to as much as 40% when children with HIV or Aids are included. Statistics also show that about 20,000 die of Aids each year in Swaziland, a number that the medical facilities of the country can hardly cope with as there are only about 2,000 hospital beds,” he added.
He said that the camp project that Amy is involved with will focus specifically on promoting a Christian perspective on identity, sexuality, and health-related issues.
“Essentially, this is like a Christian summer camp you would find in any other country. There will be games, fun, barbecues, discussion groups, music and worship. But there are differences. There will be approximately 100 Swazi’s and only about 20 Irish. The Irish will be expected to give the lead in promoting healthy living and relationships, be prepared to be speak openly about their faith and lifestyle, learn about the real-life challenges of the developing world, engage with and respect people of different culture,” he explained.
The group will be accommodated at The Anglican Church headquarters in the city of Mbabane initially. The camp itself takes place in a boarding school at Big Bend, a rural part of Swaziland.
Amy only found out six weeks ago that she would be involved in the project. This left her with a short time to raise the funds to cover the cost of the trip and the pre-programme training, which amounts to €2,000. In recent weeks, she held a barbecue and her home at which people donated money.
She has also organised a pub quiz to be held in Patrick’s Bar, Ennis next Wednesday to raise funds.
“Local soccer coach Kevin Keenan, who is a friend of mine, will MC the quiz for me. He has been helping me to raise funds. I haven’t got long left to raise money but I should raise enough. All donations would be gratefully accepted and appreciated,” Amy added.
Anyone who wishes to make a donation to Amy’s trip to Swaziland, or to the project in general can contact her on 085 7696842.