An eager group of pupils fire probing questions at members of an
Aids education team led by Kanthee Raidoo.
The pupils, seated in a hall at Ridge Park College in Overport,
Durban, face a large, blood-red banner that asks in white letters
"What's Killing Us Now?"
Raidoo, 35, from Umkomaas on the South Coast, listens attentively
and nods her head appreciatively.
The questions over, the eight members of her team, all committed
to educating the youth about Aids, perform a drama, using
creative and entertaining tools to sustain the pupils' interest.
Raidoo has gone beyond the stage of discussing how one contracts
the HIV virus to an open discussion with young people about
issues of sex, relationships and self-esteem.
And the difference with her Aids programme is that it is not a
There is also entertainment to lighten the mood and the
discussion is often punctuated with laughter.
One youngster quips: "My mother is a nurse and I am sure she has
a lot of information, but I wouldn't talk to her about sexual
issues, even if my life depended on it."
The others roar with laughter.
Another suggests that it is better to talk to a pet than a human
being because pets are not judgmental.
Vanusiya Moodley, 13, a Grade 8 pupil, says that it is easier to
talk about sex and Aids to people of her own age than to her
"I know about Aids, but today I learnt more, especially about not
being judgmental of people who are HIV-positive," she says.
A single woman, Raidoo shows great enthusiasm for her work. She
has been working with young people for 12 years after starting
out as a receptionist with an organisation called Giving Hope to
Children and Youth.
"I was very green when I joined, and the people at the
organisation developed me into the woman I am now."
She ascribes her success to Keith Coates, whom she regards as her
Coates vividly recalls the day Raidoo came to his office.
"She was very soft-spoken and shy. What stands out for me is her
tenacity and willingness to learn. She is hardly ever ruffled,"
Two of her colleagues, Liz Govender and Robyn Hemmens, laugh in
unison in referring to Raidoo's culinary expertise - she cooks
Hemmens says that the tireless Raidoo is a people's person.
Raidoo also takes care of her elderly mother. Her two married
sisters live in Johannesburg.
She says that she has dedicated her life to helping young people
develop into responsible adults.
"I come from a community where women are always put down. Gender
roles are defined and limiting to women."
As the first-born in a family of three, she says that she felt
that she had to grow up fast.
This is the reason she believes young people need to be given
space to be young and develop into healthy grown-ups.
"We have gone through difficult times in this country, and it
seems the hard times are not over yet. We have a new struggle
now. Aids is killing young people, and this is why we need to
face the challenge."
Raidoo's team holds workshops with young people from
disadvantaged schools in the Durban area. Her programme is called
Phakama, which means "rise up".
Lifeskills involving self-esteem and personal development form
the core area of her work.
"I believe that it is useless to teach young people to be
responsible if they do not have self-esteem. So we start from the
beginning. Emotional intelligence is the tool that they can use
to stay out of harm's way."
Tracy Peters, 21, a member of Raidoo's team, became involved when
she volunteered her services at the 2000 World Aids Conference in
Peters says that working with Raidoo is a challenge because she
is a "perfectionist".
"But it forces me to grow. We had to work hard perfecting the
drama which sends the message to young people that Aids kills."
Raidoo said that she was often forced to explain to people the
type of work she was engaged in.
During a break in the session, Raidoo interacts with the pupils.
She cracks jokes with them and they are drawn to her like a
They may be years apart, but Raidoo's approach has bridged the
generation gap and she has earned their trust.
The sounds of laughter follow Raidoo and her team as they drive
out of Ridge Park College to spread the word of love and
education to others in the Durban area.