To mark World Aids Day on Monday, an exhibition of children's art will show how an educational project is harnessing the creative power of children in two continents to fight the global HIV epidemic. Martin Child reports
By the time you reach the end of this piece, 10 people will have died from Aids around the world. Despite the increasing effectiveness of drugs to slow the progression of the disease - for those who can afford them - the epidemic continues apace, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, home to almost three in four of those living with the HIV virus across the globe. And with no miracle cure in sight, education remains the biggest weapon in the fight to slow its relentless spread.
A UK charity has taken this message on board and is harnessing the creative energy of young people to raise awareness and spread knowledge of the issues involved. In an educational project that links pupils in southern Africa with their peers in the UK, MADaboutART encourages children to communicate their thoughts by creating their own artworks.
The resulting paintings and drawings go on show at an exhibition in London this Sunday, on the eve of World Aids Day, and show how children in two continents, half a world apart, can cross language, social and cultural barriers to educate each other on the problems caused by the disease.
Paintings by South African children highlight contrasting features. In one, a row of smiling children appear alongside the question: "Which one of these has Aids? - You don't know", addressing the invisibility of an infection that can exist without symptoms for years, while another, the sorrowful "My Town" (pictured on this week's cover), shows its devastating effects.
UK pupils aged 11 to 13 studied the African paintings in MADaboutART workshops, and produced their own images in response. One is a plea not to let HIV drive the UK and Africa apart; another shows a man being chased by HIV, and carries the powerful message that he is about to be "stabbed by the dagger of sadness and loneliness".
Liz Brown, one of the charity's directors, says introducing artwork from Africa is a powerful way to get UK pupils involved. "It builds a bridge of communication. The aim is to engage pupils in discussion and break down stigma." Bringing the subject out into the open in this way encourages an understanding of the enormous problem of Aids - globally and locally - and helps dismantle the fundamental misunderstandings, taboos and stigma that surround it. And children will spread the message. "Pupils are agents of change. They will go home and tell their parents what they have experienced," says Ms Brown.
Visitors to this Sunday's exhibition can also see 13 body-map paintings by South African women that depict their lives struggling with HIV. There will be a children's interactive art workshop and entertainment. The money raised will help build a children's community arts space near Knysna, South Africa, where children can learn through art about HIVAids and how to protect themselves from infection.
MADaboutART's UK workshops can be tailored to schools' needs, and the charity offers a follow-up called News in our World, which involves pupils gathering information from newspaper cuttings and the internet to create a newspaper on HIVAids for distribution in school. Schools that have hosted MADaboutART workshops often go on to raise funds for the charity's other community-based Aids-related projects, or its work supporting orphans in southern Africa and Asia.
It is also about to launch a website (www.madaboutart.org) which will contain information about the workshops, examples of the artwork, and a "kidzone", featuring an animated "Vinnie the Virus". Downloadable teaching resources are planned for next year.
With 14 million children so far orphaned by Aids, and with 6,000 of the 14,000 newly infected each day being 15 to 24-year-olds, there is no doubt that it is vital for young people across the world to be educated about the massive impact of the Aids virus. The creative, engaging and thought-provoking approach of MADaboutART is crucial in spreading the message.
MADaboutART: 020 8400 9749; email@example.com; www.madaboutart.orgMad about Art World Aids Day Event, 5.30pm Sunday November 30 at the Shaw Theatre, Euston Road, London NW1. Tickets pound;20 (pound;10 children).
Tel: 020 8400 9749