By JEFFARAH GIBSON
Tribune Features Writer
AS an extension of its outreach, the AIDS Foundation has launched an initiative to raise funds for digital learning tools that will ensure students have a quality virtual experience.
Through this initiative, the foundation seeks to help adolescents who are infected and affected by HIV and AIDS to participate in online education for this school academic year.
The foundation’s objective is to provide laptops, tablets, and internet access, allowing affected students to enroll in the digital classes held by their schools.
While many of the independent schools have already begun classes, state-run institutions are expected to commence classes virtually on October 5. According to Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd, schools will begin virtually and then transition to blended learning with face to face encounters and online learning.
President of the AIDS Foundation Lady Camille Barnett stressed the critical importance of this initiative in addressing the needs of the school-aged children that the Foundation works with.
“As local learning institutions adapted their operations to mitigate the public health impact of COVID-19, online learning has become essential to addressing the academic needs of student populations while prioritising safety. Unfortunately, we are finding that many of the school students who participate in our programmes were not prepared for the transition to digital learning. Through this initiative, we hope to remove the barriers preventing access to education by providing essential technologies so that our children are not left behind.”
Lady Barnett illustrated the difficult reality faced by the young people who will be assisted by the initiative, describing them as one of the country’s “most vulnerable populations".
“We are assisting children and adolescents who have coped with the impact of HIV and AIDS in their lives while often facing severe socio-economic challenges. They cannot afford the equipment and services needed to enroll in online classes. Allowing this most vulnerable population to remain deprived of an education could have a long term effect on their lives. We intend to put an end to that cycle.”
The fundraising initiative is a part of the AIDS Foundation’s Outreach Programme for children and adolescents affected by HIV and AIDS: a three-component approach that focuses on the academic, psychosocial, and medical needs of participants. The Outreach Programme provides beneficiaries with daily academic tutoring, as well as five meals per week and access to a social worker, case aide, psychologist, food and clothing bank, and a computer lab.
“Since the start of the state of emergency in March, the Foundation has been ensuring the food security of our children and their families through weekly grocery deliveries. We want to continue this vital service in a safe way, and we are looking for any support that the public might be able to give.”
With the first day of the academic year approaching, Lady Barnett emphasised the urgent need for action to not only get recipients equipped for school, but to facilitate academic outreach efforts.
“It is vital for the academic component of our Outreach to restart through online avenues so that we can continue to provide critical academic support to students as they begin school.”
So far, the foundation has identified 16 homes in need of reliable internet access and 23 children in need of tablets and laptops. A donor has been secured to assist homes capable of accommodating a desktop computer. An anonymous donor and local communications firm, Open Current, have also pitched in with donations to the cause to secure laptop computers. The Foundation will continue to raise funds until it meets the immediate technological needs of its target population.
“We are very grateful for the support we have received and will continue to explore funding opportunities to support this initiative. We encourage anyone who is interested in contributing to the work we are doing to contact us. Your donation will make a significant and lasting impact in the life of a child,” she said.
The Bahamas AIDS Foundation is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the fight against HIV/AIDS. Its outreach to children and adolescents infected and affected by HIV and AIDS represents one of the organisation's major priorities. Those interested in donating can contact the Foundation via phone at (242) 325-9326 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.