Chances are, when you were in the seventh grade, you didn’t study the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Thanks to two UTSC students, Suleiman Furmli and Mojib Sameem, that’s about to change for thousands of students across Toronto. A third student, Homira Osman, also presented the handbook to the TDSB.

The AIDS epidemic will be added to the Toronto District School Board curriculum via a new teacher’s handbook called the Abana tool. Abana was developed by Julie Rémy, a photographer on mission in Rwanda for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), who helped collect photographs, stories, and artwork from AIDS-affected children. The meetings were held in secret, since these kids are often excluded from the community if others find out about their illness.

Furmli, a volunteer for MSF, wanted to get the word out. With the help of Sameem, they decided the best way to teach Canadian children about these issues was to go straight to the source: their school curriculum. After contacting the chair of the TDSB, which represents over 102 high schools and 451 elementary schools across Toronto, the two presented the Abana tool to the Board of Trustees at a meeting in spring 2008. The project was approved soon after.

However, the timeline for implementing the program remains unclear. While the Abana tool is to be adopted for curricular programming in physical and health education, and social and world studies, the TDSB has not provided details on when teachers will receive the handbook, and whether it will be a mandatory component. The designated TDSB representatives could not be reached for comment at press time.

Both Furmli and Sameem expressed hope that the inclusion of the AIDS epidemic in Africa in the TDSB curriculum will encourage students to become more socially aware and promote activism. The two have no plans yet to address other school boards with the Abana tool proposal, said Furmli, but Sameem added that it is definitely an option. “For sure it is something we’d like to do,” Furmli said.

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