Crisis situations often stimulate inspiration. This is proved in the story of Sr. Kay Lawlor, she writes:
In 1988 during a celebration at Kalungu secondary school (Masaka, Uganda), a school where several seminars had already been held on AIDS, I was suggesting another session of input for the new students when the headmistress surprised me by saying, “I can’t listen to one more talk on AIDS. You people come here and tell us how it is transmitted and how fast it is spreading and each time the statistics get worse. No one is helping us to stop it.” this quite shocked me and I began to get defensive, saying, “It’s not possible to stop it if the people themselves won’t change their behaviour.” “Help them to do it then”, she said. I want away with that statement ringing in my ears.
Several days later I realized that I was still defending myself and our programmes in my mind; it was not productive. It was then that I decided to try and solve the dilemma by applying the method of counselling that I used in the Pastoral Care and Counselling Department of Kitovu Hopital. It is a problem solving and action oriented approach based on the ‘helping skills’ model of Gerard Egan. A key facet of the model is the ongoing evaluation of the process.
In order to learn from the ‘apparent’ failure of the approach at Kalungu, I needed to look more closely at the problem in a systematic way.
I looked at the present reality and saw that we were stuck in giving the same information over and over again to as many groups as possible. The message was getting to people but change wasn’t occurring in their behaviour. Were we missing something? Yes. In stressing the facts about AIDS, emphasis was being placed on the disease and not on the underlying behaviour. There was no help given them to look at the social, economic, cultural, and psychological stresses underlying their actions.
Most people believed deep down that they had very little choice. The focus needed to be shifted. Like most people when they reach this stage, I wanted concrete solutions.
By staying with the process, I begin first to surface possibilities and then to assess their usefulness. Drama, role plays, discussions, all came to mind; most were already being used. What was missing was an ongoing process which utilized the principles of behaviour change; a process that would take place in a group. As I worked on this it became clear that I could use the same ‘helping skills’ model in our preventative work that I was using to try and solve this problem. With this the “Education for Life” process was born…
The teachers at Kalungu were most enthusiastic and cooperative. A programme was drawn up enfleshing the process and training sessions were held for group leaders. Students met in small groups with a leader once a week and followed guided questions which kept them on track with the process. This was the concrete beginning. Since then the “Education for Life” process has been incorporated into many different programmes; it has grown, spread and been greatly enriched. Throughout this time, the underlying process had remained the same while the way it has been enfleshed in programmes has varied greatly.
It has been noticed over the years that the groups making the most consistent and effective use of the process have recognized and incorporated an element necessary for bringing about a sustainable change; the element of faith. This is a reference to and a dependence on a Higher Power, a Spiritual Source, God, however an individual understands this. By early 1995 it became evident that the use of the “Education for Life” process had begun to spread rapidly and in varying directions. It needed to be assessed and up dated.
The programme was introduced in South Africa in the late 1990’s where a number of youth and various leaders underwent the process. They began working in their local areas and the affects of the new hope and growth that they experienced began to spread further afield. In August 2002 the programme was presented tot he Southern African Catholic Bishop’s Conference as a possible preventative programme for the youth in face of the serious pandemic of HIV/AIDS that was killing the nation. The bishops saw the need for such a programme among the youth and in January 2003 they approved it as a National Youth Programme that was placed under the National Youth Desk within the SACBC Region, namely, South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland. A three year plan to implement “Education for Life” was set in place engaging many committed youth animators, religious sisters, brothers and priests. Jesus has come that we may have life and have it to the fullest hence we have no time to waste. The programme was reindorsed at the August Bishop’s Plenary 2003 and the good work continues.