Students unite for HIV and AIDS awareness | News, Sports, Jobs
Students from Mandaree, White Shield and New Town High School gathered to discuss HIV and AIDS at the first-ever Native American Youth Conference on HIV and AIDS Awareness held on March 20 at 4 Bears Casino and Lodge.
Throughout the conference, the teens were joined by a host of community leaders, health experts and members of the Tribal Business Council, as well as special guest Shana Cozad, motivational speaker and HIV survivor.
Red Fox Sanchez, Director of Tribal Health for the Mandan Nation, Hidatsa, Arikara of the Fort Berthold Reservation, expressed immense pride and excitement to see the students coming together for a responsible cause.
“We had an excellent participation” Sanchez said. “It was great to see the students very engaged. When I was their age, we never had conferences. Sexually transmitted diseases and HIV are overlooked. Even today, HIV remains unexpressed. So, hearing students want to know how to protect themselves and want to be aware of the consequences is really great. I’m really happy to see the younger generation take this by the horns and ask the questions head-on.
Cozad, an AIDS prevention educator, enlightened students on her personal struggles and triumphs as an HIV survivor.
“Shana was an excellent speaker” Sanchez said. “For many spectators, I think it was the first time they saw someone who has AIDS. It was a reality check as she described what it was like when she was first diagnosed and the obstacles she faced with AIDS.
As Cozad revealed tales of his life-changing condition, students rejected generalizations and took on new perspectives on HIV and AIDS.
“I think when the students saw her, maybe they thought she would be different”, Sanchez said. “Some students thought she would look skinny, but they saw someone who appeared to be in good physical health. Their response to Shana was excellent and they didn’t hesitate to ask questions. All the students took a liking to Shana as well as to the adults. Shana made it clear that if you don’t protect yourself there will be consequences.
In addition to hearing from Cozad and an informative panel of experts, the students participated in interactive games and group activities.
“The game of HIV transmission begins with a stack of marked cards” Sanchez said. “Cards labeled with the letters x, z and o represented genital herpes, HIV and chlamydia. The students walked around the room, shook hands and got signatures. Some students had cards that said “do not follow my instructions” and others had a card with the letter c, which meant they were wearing condoms. “
At the end of the game, the students who did not follow the instructions or were given a card with the letter c, were either protected or reduced their risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease.
According to Sanchez, the purpose of the game was to show how easily sexually transmitted diseases can be contracted and to encourage students to talk to their health care providers.
Before the youth conference closed, students received free HIV and hepatitis tests.
“The response was excellent” Sanchez said. “There was a long line and everyone wanted to know their status.”
At the end of the event, a wealth of knowledge was distributed as well as several prizes, including two pairs of Bruno Mars tickets for a concert in August.
“The conference was a great success”, Sanchez said. “It was great, especially since this was the very first youth conference here at the Fort Berthold reserve. … This is something that I love to see and that I would like to continue doing.