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Protecting street kids from AIDS in Senegal

The association Avenir de l’Enfant does excellent work under tough conditions

Daniel ENGER

01 / 1999

Just ten years ago, it was extremely rare here in Senegal to come across a homeless young person. Today, there are thousands of them, and each week more and more young people are forced -- for a variety of reasons -- to leave their homes and face the many dangers of life on the street.

Among those dangers is HIV infection. Street kids, generally caught up in horrific poverty, frequently engage in informal prostitution to get money, food, a place to sleep, or drugs. It is reported that adult sexual predators, often paying less than the equivalent of two U.S. dollars per encounter, are turning their attention to the youngest of the street kids in the belief that such a strategy might reduce the risk of contracting HIV. Even if the street youths are informed about HIV prevention and understand the benefits of using condoms, it is unlikely that they will protect themselves, as such prevention is financially out of reach.

Unfortunately, the extreme vulnerability of street youth to HIV infection is coupled with a very high degree of difficulty when it comes to providing them with effective prevention programs. Among the many problems faced by prevention workers are: the overwhelming power of poverty and its consequences on street kids’ decision making; the fact that street youths have limited access to education, and many can neither read nor write; a great number of these young people neither belong to nor are cared for by any structure whatsoever.

In the Senegalese city of Rufisque, located thirty kilometers from Dakar, one organization is working with tremendous effectiveness and inspirational tenacity to keep HIV out of street youths’ lives. The association Avenir de l’Enfant (ADE; "The Child’s Future"), active for many years now, is headed by Mr. Moussa Sow, an eloquent man of conviction and courage.

Mr. Sow speaks of street youth not as victims needy of social assistance, but rather as precious human resources, as people who will contribute to building a better future for us all.

ADE protects street youths from AIDS not only by means of activities directly designed to foster preventive behaviors, but also through a comprehensive program of support aiming to help young people escape homelessness once and for all.

Often by serving as mediator, ADE does its utmost to facilitate the return of a young person to his or her family. In cases where that is not (yet)possible, ADE takes street kids into its care, providing food, shelter, clothing, some basic medical care, and educational programs at its special hostels.

ADE places strong emphasis on the provision of vocational training and turns out qualified tailors and seamstresses, carpenters and specialists in metal fittings. According to Moussa Sow, "Giving young women an alternative to living on the street is a good way to protect them from HIV infection."

What can the broader stop-AIDS community do to help protect street youth from HIV? Mr. Sow cites a number of things, including the improved use of cinemas as vectors of HIV-related information. He says that going to the movies at one of the low-cost local cinemas is a favorite pastime of street kids. It’s a golden opportunity to convey information on AIDS, but Mr. Sow points out that one seldom sees any kind of prevention-related messages at those cinemas.

The director of ADE says that radio shows would also be a good way to reach out to street kids. He notes that, on occasion, he has given live radio interviews without having informed anybody in advance and has been taken aback when, right after leaving the studio, street kids in the area congratulate him and discuss the content of the interview.

Moussa Sow is a man of conviction, a characteristic for which one often pays dearly. Today, he is enduring the consequences of having dared to take a perilous stand against an influential man he accuses of having sexually abused street children in Senegal. That individual wielded his influence swiftly and harshly, and the result was that ADE lost its primary source of financial support overnight. For having taken a stand against pedophilia, Moussa Sow now finds himself struggling to identify new sources of funding so that he can provide urgently needed basic services to street kids.

He says that ADE’s most important needs at present are: food, clothing, and materials for the vocational training programs (especially carpentry and metal-fitting).

Key words

AIDS, health

, África, Senegal, West Africa


Members of the FPH network can help ADE in a very important way, namely by sharing information with them about relevant potential sources of support. In the NGO world, and surely elsewhere as well, one often comes across announcements pertaining to new sources of support (financial, technical, material). If you see such an announcement that might be useful to ADE, please inform them.


For further information about ADE, contact SOW, Moussaat Avenir de l’Enfant, B.P. 261 Rufisque, Senegal. Tel/fax (0221)836 13 08. E-mail

Interview with SOW, Moussa


Resource person ; Interview

This file sheet is based not only on a discussion with <SOW, Moussa>, but also on his presentation at the January 23, 1999 meeting of <FOSAS>(Forum Solidarité Anti-SIDA; Anti-AIDS Solidarity Forum), held at the offices of Africa Consultants International (<ACI>) in Dakar.

GDT (The Global Dialogues Trust) - B.P. 11589, Dakar, SENEGAL. Tél : (0221)824 97 65 Bureau du Burkina Faso: 06 B.P. 9342, Ouagadougou, BURKINA FASO Bureau du Royaume-Uni: c/o SJS, 7 Allison Court, Metro Centre, Gateshead NE11 9YS, UNITED KINGDOM - Senegal - -,

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