The “Association Marocaine des Jeunes Contre le SIDA” (AMJCS) is one of the associations active in the field of prevention of AIDS. It was created in 1993 by a group of young Moroccans to fight the spread of AIDS, and other sexually transmitted infections (STI) in Morocco. For the world AIDS day, they organized a mobile kiosk to make the general public aware of the danger of AIDS. AMJCS president Abdessamad Oussayh gave Morocco Times an interview.
1-What is the objective of the mobile kiosk?
The objective of the mobile kiosk is to make people aware of the danger of AIDS in Morocco. We are here in the street to be closer to the general public, and transmit a simple message which is the theme of our campaign this year: “ SIDA kayna wa el wikaya bayna”, which means “AIDS exists and the means of prevention are obvious.” The kiosk is equipped with communication materials and documentation about AIDS.
In addition, our team distributes leaflets containing information on the precautions to take in order to avoid HIV infection, and the major reasons leading to it. The kiosk attracts a lot of people. They feel more comfortable with these kinds of programmes than coming to the association's prevention sessions. We are mobilized here to provide them with the necessary information and guide them to blood- testing centres.
2-Is your campaign limited to Casablanca?
At the moment, we are mobilizing our resources in different neighbourhoods in Casablanca, including shantytowns. However, we are planning to extend our activities to other cities, especially tourist ones.
3-What are your target audiences?
We divide the population into four segments:
a - Youth: (heterosexuals)
The focus on young people (both genders) acknowledges the fact that they are vulnerable to the risk of being infected. The majority of Moroccans, between 5 and 35 years old, lack sexual health education, and need to be informed about the disease and the possible ways to protect themselves.
We receive them anonymously in the association, inform them, and give them free condoms. We closely follow the cases of about 60 homosexuals, who call us or come to the association seeking advice. We also have a psychiatrist who helps us diagnose the psychological problems of these homosexuals. We try to understand them, and know the causes that lead them to homosexuality.
We go to their workplaces, informing them, distributing free condoms, and offering help. We have worked on a social development project for prostitutes, who will benefit from alternative jobs with a salary of around Dh 2000 a month. We had a pilot project with a sample of four prostitutes whom we trained to manage a small business. We contacted a small enterprise that helped us find markets for their products and teach them trade. It is true that targeting only four prostitutes is not sufficient, but it is a pilot project destined to low income prostitutes.
d- Street children:
We launched an information and prevention campaign for street children who are always at risk. We went to talk with them in the places where they usually gather, built good relationships with them, and brought them to the association. To motivate this group, we distribute food, clothes, and other basic needs. We often use entertainment-education (edutainment) and games to get them to listen to our messages. For example, we bring tapes of “ Cheb Bilal”, and listen to him with them, because they like him. Our group believes in Maslow's theory which states that basic needs such as food, shelter, security, medical care, and water must be fulfilled first.
4-What are your usual means of communication you are usually using?
We rely mainly more on edutainment, especially popular drama, which is very efficient in any AIDS campaign,. Theatre tells a story. It presents and dramatizes people's way of life. It adds entertainment value to an inspiring message and so keeps the attention of the audience. Popular theatre interprets and describes the reality of contemporary life while using traditional forms of expression. It is a medium which allows people to interact in matters concerning the community. Theatre encourages the audience to reflect on behaviour while identifying with specific characters, who find themselves in a well known and difficult situation.
In this way, the audience can find a model to adopt new behaviour, and integrate into their daily life. It is important to note that identification with the performers is made easier if there is some physical and psychological similarity. We also focus on interpersonal communication including individual counselling, telephone, peer education, group counselling, and opinion leaders. We use as well small media (flip charts, brochures, slides, posters, video, audio tapes); mass media (radio, television, newspaper); and edutainment (theatre, music, folk media). We will soon launch a new bilingual newspaper for young people to make them aware about AIDS.
We also participate in special events such as World AIDS Day and school fairs. But what is most important for us is listening. Active listening implies a capacity for restating the target's point of view so that the audience discovers the causes of the problem and possible solutions. This is different from a dogmatic, authoritarian approach of imposing ready-made solutions on the target.
5-What is the message that AMJCS wants to transmit to young Moroccans?
AIDS threatens our lives. Protect yourselves and your family by controlling your behaviour. AIDS exists; it is not the disease of the others; it can happen to you if you are not careful. Prevention is also obvious and known to you. Please live and let live.
What young AMJCS volunteers say about AIDS
Maria Jemjoumi, 26 year old computer technician.
I am an AMJCS volunteer because AIDS threatens our lives, our future and our career. It threatens the whole society. We work with target groups with different ages, gender, and social background. We are neither professionals nor doctors, but young people who need to be informed because we are more vulnerable to the risk of HIV/AIDS. However, it does not mean that we only work with youth; we also work with older people. To get a message across, we have to adapt the language we are using to the target's cultural background. For example you can't speak Arabic or French with someone who only knows Berber. With most of our targets, we use very simple language. The way you talk to a street child, or a countryside man, is not the same when you talk to an intellectual. Each category of these people has its own language and vocabulary. In terms of informing the public, we usually go to the people. The biggest problem we face is that AIDS is surrounded with taboos and stigma. We have to admit that we are still a culture of silence. To break these taboos, we have to speak. Parents, in particular, should have an open dialogue with their children about sexuality. Children should learn more about their body even before puberty. In that way, one might avoid sexual misconduct and behavior.
Abdellah Oussayh, a 20 year old student
I have been an AMJCS volunteer for several years. I used to go to the association's prevention sessions with my brother. I got motivated by their activities, especially when I met people living with AIDS, who used to come to the association for advice. I really sympathized with them when I saw them slowly dying. As our campaign theme tells “AIDS exits and prevention is known”. My message to young Moroccans, in this World AIDS Day, is “protect yourselves, and never think that AIDS is the disease of the others. It might happen to anyone if you don't take the precautions necessary to protect yourself, your family, and your life. Please control your behavior. We need you because you are the future leaders of tomorrow”.