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Open letter to students: one week of holiday left, survive it!

Dear young man, lady,

I don’t think there is anyone right now in the whole world who is more handsome or beautiful than you are. The strictest school grooming rules fail to conceal how stunning your physique is under those dowdy uniforms they force you to wear.

You just have to laugh or walk down a road for all eyes to be on you. You know they are looking at you and you are justly proud the creator was not stingy when they were working on you.

But what you don’t realise is that not everyone looking at you wishes the best for you, like all adults do for children. You may still be a child or just about to stop being one but you no longer look like one to some people. They will not hesitate to treat you like you already understand how the world works if you let them.

Some of these people will entice you with promises of access to things you think your parents and school have been unfairly denying you.

After all, isn’t that what school holidays are supposed to be about, you might think. Fun! Some of your school friends have wowed you with stories of how their first hit of shisha transported them to another world better than the Uganda we live in. And they know some bufunda where you can go and no one asks about your age when you order a shisha “pot” to be brought.

But it is not only the bufunda that are calling. You have a friend who has a friend who has a friend who knows the cousin of the owner of that club in Naalya where the sons and daughters of the revolution hang out. If you get in, you are assured of Hennessey bottles and Moet shots and who knows where the night could go from there?

You will have stories to tell for months, if you pull this off, with the assistance of that rich only slightly older friend. There is a monster waiting for you in that fun that you think will be a temporary diversion no one but a few will ever know about. I want to tell you about that monster and how you can slay it, if you have to meet it, or not even have to meet it at all. Like so many of your friends already are.

Every year, it grabs at least 1.2 million of your age mates, some of whom sit next to you in your classroom. Every year, it ensures that at least one friend of yours joins the 730 people who meet it per week while out having fun. Your female friends in the 15-24 age group is more likely to have it while if you are male, as you mature past 20, the chances become higher as you achieve some independence and money in the wallet, hitting the night spots. 

You will have to bury more than one friend before you are done with school due to this monster claiming at least 20,000 Ugandans per year. This monster is the one which has been with us all these years: HIV/AIDS and still rampages at our most vulnerable moments when we are trying to open up to another person in the most intimate of moments that should be special and memorable.

All these stats are freely available for you with our ministry of Health, Uganda Aids Commission and the World Health Organisation. This is why I’m asking you, with one week left in your holiday, to become extra careful and guard your life jealously. Have clean fun, not risky fun.

Life can change in a matter of seconds, for good, if this monster gets you. This temporary pleasure does not compare to what awaits you and is payment for your patience and fortitude when you are older and enjoying a lifetime of reward healthy. Do not lose that for the now that will be gone in no time.

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