loveLife gets attitude

The new loveLife campaign for 2005 was launched last week. It is again a message that is hard to understand; another campaign that will provoke debate and discussion. Is this controversy a waste of money or is it the secret to loveLife’s success?

The Mail & Guardian Online talks to Refilwe Africa, the editor of loveLife magazine Uncut.
She is 26 years old and has been working for the organisation since 2001. The main reason why she chose loveLife is that she is inspired by the energy of South African youth and wants to be as close as possible to that source.

1. What is the new campaign about?
Our campaign for 2005 is called Get Attitude. On television, we will start with just these words and some music in the background.

What is “Get Attitude” supposed to say?
What do you think when you see these two words for 10 seconds on a screen, no mention of loveLife, no mention of Aids?

I would think, what does this mean and who is trying to tell me this.
Exactly, and that is what we want to achieve. So, we will run that for the first three months and then slowly reveal the rest of the campaign.

HIV/Aids is taking away a lot of fun out of live. And not only when it comes to sex ... everywhere you look, it is making life grimmer. Children are losing their parents; pupils are losing their friends and teachers.

We want to tell the youth: stand up and go crazy. The youthfulness must come back. A lot of young people are brought down by so much.

It is not just HIV/Aids, it is crime and violence, it is unemployment and poverty and all these things [that] take away their hope and aspirations for the future. They basically feel like there is no way out. We want to tell them: there is nowhere else to go but up; get attitude, do it!

2. What is loveLife apart from the billboards?
A lot of people think loveLife is about condoms and billboards, but it is much more than that. It is a lifestyle campaign that was launched in 1999 and intents to reduce the prevalence of HIV and Aids among young people. Our target market is 12 to 17 years old.

Apart from prevention, we are an inspirational campaign and try to direct young people towards a goal. The virus has such an impact that it has become hard for young people to dream. We want to guide them towards a responsible lifestyle through which they have hope for the future.

We have a media component, which consists of radio and TV programmes and a magazine. Through these platforms, we access a lot of young people on a national level.

There are 16 Y-Centres nationwide. In these youth centres, young people come together for activities, motivational counselling and sports. They come to do their homework and it is a place for them to relax. The centres keep teenagers engaged in positive activities, and it is a place where they can talk about their problems.

We have established youth-friendly clinics where young people can go for clinical advice. In normal clinics, young people often get turned away or the nurses are rude or they cannot relate to their problems.

And we run the Groundbreaker programme. Groundbreakers are volunteers who are 18 to 25 years old. They are our people on the ground and go to communities and schools to implement our programme.

These volunteers interact with young people; they talk to them about HIV/Aids and a responsible lifestyle in their own language and on a very personal level.

3. How do you get young people to dream again?
Last year’s campaign, Love to Be There, asked young people where they would like to be in 2010. If you want to achieve this, why not start now? It aims to get young people to think for themselves as well, and think beyond the disease.

But what is a picture of a naked, pregnant woman telling you?
The Love to Be There poster with the pregnant woman was a little controversial, but we are known to be controversial.

The picture tries to say, once you have reached your goals and you are an HIV-negative adult, you can start thinking about a family and children. By then, obviously, you would have taken your precautions, you and your partner have been tested for HIV/Aids.

The picture was meant to get people to question the fact that if they want a family, they will have to be responsible.

4. Can you afford to be controversial?
We want people to think about our posters. Either they understand it from first-hand or they get angry and say: I do not know what you are trying to say.

At some point in our campaign, we will get people to wonder. This creates conversation between parents and children, dialogue between peers. That is exactly what we want to achieve, that people talk about HIV/Aids and sex.

Some of our posters were self-explanatory. For instance, the body of a man with a lot of different female hands; those billboards were a lot more direct. They got to the point without becoming too obvious. We don’t want to be too obvious, because than we will lose the attraction of controversy.

I think a lot of the uproar around our campaigns arises from the fact that adults do not get what we are saying, but our target group does get the message.

About 80% of the South African youth between 12 and 17 know what loveLife is and what we stand for.

We have been criticised for not showing the face of HIV and Aids as it is in terms of the number of young people dying every day.

5. So why not show the real thing?
Research has indicated that our target market does not want to see the doom and gloom.

The bad stuff happens around them every day; they bury friends and family every Saturday. They have become desensitised to this doom-and-gloom message.

They hear so many bad messages from various HIV/Aids NGOs and organisations: Aids kills and if you get infected with HIV you will die soon. They think if the statistic says in 10 years’ time I will die, then why should I take precautions? Aids is there and there is just no escaping it.

As much as we try not to show the doom and the gloom, we still do not avoid the ABC [abstinence, be faithful and use condoms]. We will never leave the message of Aids behind. The core task of our Groundbreakers is to speak about Aids and about the importance of leading a responsible life.

That is the core of our message, but that does not mean that we have to spell it out in every billboard. The posters are a way of getting people to think and talk. The real message lies behind this and is conveyed through the rest of our programme.

6. Are you focusing on the disease or on a responsible lifestyle?
On a responsible life style. The argument is that as long as you have young people engaging in positive and responsible activities, they are less likely to engage in irresponsible sexual behaviour.

It is a process of elimination, basically. If you focus on this lifestyle, you are not going to become a statistic. In that way we have reduced or somehow affected the prevalence of HIV and Aids.

Currently 95% of young people of 15 and 16 years old are HIV-negative. We are reaching out to these people and say: keep it like that.

What are you going to do? That is what loveLife is about; we give young people the choices and appeal to them to think for themselves.

7. Are you not enhancing the stigma by saying to young people who are infected that they were not responsible?
Not at all. We are not saying, too bad, you should have listened to our message. We focus on those who are not infected and at the same time we try to show compassion for those who are infected.

We try to uplift the spirits of HIV-positive youngsters and try to convince them that being positive is not a death sentence.

We try to tell them that even if they are infected, they should still be responsible so they can prolong their live. We talk about ARVs [anti-retrovirals] and a healthy diet.

These young people should still dream and be positive about their lives. And, of course, we stress the importance of using a condom.

8. Has your approach over the past five years actually led to a decline in the prevalence of HIV and Aids among young people?
It is hard to asses the percentage of people throughout South Africa affected by our programme and if the prevalence of HIV/Aids has actually gone down since we started our campaign.

From 1999 until now, we see that our message is spreading among young people. Studies show that 80% of our target market has heard of loveLife and knows what we stand for.

9. How is loveLife funded?
We get most of our money through foundations and corporate funding like the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Nelson Mandela [Children’s] Fund, and a whole host of other corporate funds.

Any government funding?
The Department of Health supports our clinics. They give us existing clinics, especially in rural areas, and we transform them into youth-friendly clinics that support the loveLife programme. And the minister of health will be opening our new offices on January 14.

10. What is your opinion of the government’s approach towards HIV and Aids?
They have their own campaign and do their part of HIV/Aids messaging. They have a different approach to reach young people, but it is definitely not a bad campaign.

Personally, I feel that they could do more in terms of empowering young people, because the more empowered people are, the less likely they are to contract HIV/Aids. That is just a given fact. Issues like unemployment, education and crime could be better regulated by government.

I can understand that President [Thabo] Mbeki has decided to keep it on the low with comments on HIV and Aids. He has had so much trouble with the media concerning his quotes about the virus.

The diplomatic thing to do for him is to keep quiet, which as a leader you simply cannot do. You will have to somehow tell the young people to take precautions.

But the government and other political figures are on the right track. The project where the ministers agreed to get tested is a good example. The fact that Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Nelson Mandela speak openly about the cause of death of their children takes away the stigma to a certain extent.

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