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Training to Make a Difference
by Ong Lay Seong

Making a Difference for HIV/AIDS in Malaysia
The first case of HIV/AIDS was detected in Malaysia in 1986. Malaysians infected by HIV have continued to rise year on year. Despite the work of many HIV/AIDS organisations, the trend has not improved.

AsiaWorks was commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme to develop and present a training for the leaders in non-government organisations, in government, as well as private individuals involved in various aspects of HIV/AIDS works. The purpose of the training was to create greater initiative for an effective response towards HIV/AIDS in Malaysia.

My name is Ong Lay Seong, and because of my experience in the AsiaWorks/UNDP training, I know I can make a difference in the world.

My participation in work to solve the HIV/AIDS crisis began in 2000 when as a member of AsiaWorks Leadership Programme 36 in Kuala Lumpur, I had elected to do a community service project on HIV/AIDS. Since that time, I have continued to contribute in various aspects of HIV/AIDS work in my home city of Penang. In 2002, I retired from work to devote my time fully to community work on HIV/AIDS.

The Workshops: United Nation Development Programme Leadership Initiative for an Effective Response to HIV/AIDS
On 31 March 2003, I was one of 150 participants from throughout Malaysia gathered in the Concorde Hotel in Kuala Lumpur at the invitation of the United Nation Development Programme to begin a training that would span three modules over a six month period. During this time, seven full days were devoted to Leadership and three days to learning Coaching Skills, with the assistance of AsiaWorks trainers Keith Bentz, Gene Dunaway, Gareth McIlroy and Mark Hemstedt.

There was an atmosphere of instant camaraderie since most of the participants were from NGOs involved in HIV/AIDS projects. At the end of the first Leadership workshop, the 150 participants formed into 11 groups and declared projects they would undertake, ranging from an HIV/AIDS hotline, implementing the DOSH (Department of Occupational Safety & Health) Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS, sexuality awareness, empowerment and education.

The Soap Project
I found myself gravitating into the education group and the School Outreach AIDS Prevention (SOAP) Programme is such. The objective of the SOAP programme was to create an effective HIV/AIDS awareness in secondary schools for 2000 students in Malaysia by 04 October 2003.

There were 20 members in the SOAP programme and members from each state agreed to choose their own programme to implement during the six weeks prior to the second training module. During our group discussions, we agreed that any HIV/AIDS education to secondary school student should not be in the form of lecture or seminar but be interactive in nature. Very much like the interactive training we were participating in!

The members of the Penang SOAP group were Engie Ng, Christine Low, Pinnie Yeoh, Grace Foo, Ivy Ho, Hilda Eng and I. William Ooi who was also a workshop participant was later enrolled into the group as computer graphics artist.

The Penang SOAPers decided to adopt and modify a giant game board that had been conceptualised by the Penang Family Planning Association (FPA) and sponsored by Malaysian AIDS Council for World AIDS 2002.

The "Giant Me Snake & Ladder Red Ribbon Game" (GMRRG) was a portable 8 feet by 10 feet board consisting of 20 squares, each square being 2 feet by 2 feet made of ½-inch plywood. It is an interactive game aimed at educating and raising the knowledge and danger of HIV/AIDS, utilising the universal AIDS awareness symbol of the looped red ribbon. HIV/AIDS messages were on the game board and the players learned about HIV/AIDS as they move along the board. I was one of the three artists who did the drawings on the game board. Unfortunately, due the size of the board, the game could only reach a limited number of people. We knew we could do better.

We decided to convert the GMRRG into a table top game, to be called the Red Ribbon Game (RRG). There was hive of activities as the group meet several times to allocate responsibilities and tasks. Within two weeks, the Penang SOAPers created a 20-square table top size Red Ribbon Game. We approached secondary schools in Penang for approval to test-market the game on their students. We worked with five schools during the six weeks before the start of the Second module. Feedback from students playing the red ribbon game was recorded for further modification.

Back to the Training Room
The 20-square Red Ribbon Game and The Giant Me Snake & Ladder Red Ribbon Game were presented during the Second Module amidst much fanfare and soap bubbles to our theme song "A Little Bit of Soap". The Penang SOAPers also declared to extend the scope of the Red Ribbon Game from 20 squares to 40 squares. After much brainstorming, we eventually ended up with a game board of 49 squares!

The final 49-square Red Ribbon Game was also tested out in several secondary schools in State. We found a sponsor to produce the 100 sets of the game in English. A total of 50 sets were given to various non-government HIV/AIDS organisations, UNDP, AsiaWorks, the Ministry of Health and, importantly the Ministry of Education.

Mission Underway!
The game presented to Ministry Of Education served its objective. In October, the Ministry of Education wrote to Penang FPA (Family Planning Association) saying it will endorse the Red Ribbon Game provided it is in the Bahasa Malaysia language and that some pictures and messages on the original game board are amended to suit the Malaysian education environment. The Red Ribbon Game aims to reach 6,000 secondary schools in the country and if each school were to buy 10 sets, we are looking at production of 60,000 sets.

The challenge now is to get the Red Ribbon Game produced and implemented in the 6000 secondary schools nationwide as interactive learning tools on HIV/AIDS and hence raise their awareness on the danger of HIV/AIDS infection.

Currently Engie and Christine of Penang FPA are in the first AsiaWorks North Malaysia Leadership Programme (Legacy) and have declared their intention to produce the Bahasa Malaysia version of the Red Ribbon Game by January 2004. I am now serving as a volunteer coach for Legacy and as the original member of the Penang SOAP team, I am also involved the production of the game. We are now looking for sponsor to produce another 100 sets in Bahasa Malaysia.

The Future
My dream is to convert the table top game into a computer game and to enrol Microsoft to have the game installed in the game section of the Microsoft Office software package such that people world-wide could learn about HIV/AIDS via an interactive game.

The Experiences
The United Nations Development Programme training combined elements of the AsiaWorks Basic Training and Leadership Programme and for me it was like going through the AsiaWorks training programmes all over again. A very powerful experience!

Prior to my AsiaWorks experience, I would be intimidated by participating in a gathering the size of the UNDP training. I would tend to wait... wait... and wait for things to happen. I would sit back and allow others to lead. Instead, I had the opportunity to experience my own experience... being in action throughout the duration of the training... going and giving 100%... and generating and driving the SOAP project. The phrase "flying without wings" was not just a phrase, but an experience. It was a reality for me. I have a lot of passion for HIV/AIDS works but did not believe that my contribution would be that important. Now I know that my contribution matters, and that we can all make a difference.

The UNDP has created a powerful video on the training. A personal interview by Christine Edwards and her camera crew in my house with regards to my view on HIV/AIDS and the SOAP programme was a BIG WOW for me. And the Red Ribbon Game received three pages of coverage in the local newspaper.

As in all highs, I also experience the lows. The Penang SOAPers experienced a lot of breakdowns during the production of the game board. The original eight members of the Penang SOAPers dwindled down to only 4 active members as others dropped out due to inability to commit the time and work. When the Red Ribbon Game was tested in the schools, volunteers dropped from 10 to sometimes 2. It was hard work but when our commitment and intention are clear, we will not allow some breakdowns get in the way of achieving our vision.

I am greatly honoured to be a participant in the UNDP Leadership initiative for an effective response to HIV/AIDS and I would like to thank and acknowledge Maxine Olson, Angeline Ackermans and Brian Lariche for doing a great job of getting 150 participants into a workshop of this magnitude and for having the vision and courage to address the issue of HIV/AIDS.

A Note From AsiaWorks: How You Can Participate If you are interested in learning more about the Red Ribbon Game, or providing sponsorship for its production, please contact the AsiaWorks Kuala Lumpur office or the webmaster by sending an email to our website feedback.


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