A charismatic 17-year-old named Puseletso Takane is one of the stars of a UNICEF program aimed at saving at least some of the children in an African country so AIDS-ridden that skinned knees at school are handled with kid gloves. But who will save her? Charlayne Hunter-Gault has the story.
In Lesotho, a tiny landlocked kingdom surrounded by South Africa, HIV/AIDS has been declared a national disaster, and it's taking out young people like Puseletso in numbers almost too enormous to contemplate. More than half the girls in her age group, 15 to 24, are HIV positive. And with the country's overall infection rate of about 30 percent, the disease is killing so many adults that orphaned girls and boys are left everywhere to fend for themselves. Often they end up on the streets trying to earn a morsel of bread or a bowl of pap (cornmeal porridge that's a staple of their diet) by selling their bodies to much older men.
As she often does, Puseletso has asked the teacher if she can speak with the class. Such pop-ins have become regular occurrences since last year, when she participated in a special UNICEF workshop designed to halt the exploding HIV/AIDS pandemic. During the program, Puseletso and other teenagers practiced discussing the thornier issues of sex and were encouraged to ask questions, probably for the first time in their lives. Each was also taught to claim her rights—to an education, to health, to her own body. It was here that Puseletso studied the ABC's of AIDS and explored innovative ways of spreading the information to her friends.
Now, Puseletso and her troupe's candid classroom discussions and impromptu after-school dramas are challenging the culture in a way that may help preserve the best of it and save the next generation of Basotho in the process.
To find out more about Puseletso in this month's article, and to see how Charlie's Angels star Lucy Liu has become a UNICEF angel, pick up a copy of O, The Oprah Magazine.
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