"Get out of the sexual network mum and dad or we might lose you."
This was written on a billboard beside a Ugandan road. The
accompanying image was two young children looking sad. Another
billboard from the same campaign had faces in circles all connected by
lines and a slogan about being connected in one spot connected you to
everyone. Social networking images and slogans to fight the spread of
I have never written about roadside AIDS campaigns but I cannot seem
to get this one out of my mind. And I try to not write about images
without an accompanying photo, but I saw these as we were driving
along the road and my camera was not ready to go. I did not stop for a
second look or ask the car to turn around, but these images are
imprinted on my mind.
Can you imagine them?
It has left me wondering if they have such an impact on Ugandans or if
it is the juxtaposition of the American connotation of social networks
against the sexual network talked about on these billboards that holds
my mind captive. The sexual/social network map is the same style I
have seen used to describe social networking in America. Powerful
imagery. Maybe this is a campaign that could be used in America.
How important are children in America?
Then there is the other part of this campaign. Every billboard tied
the problem of being a part of the "sexual network" back to families.
To children who would lose their parents. Children who would only
have grandparents. Here family is a powerful thing and your children
are viewed as your wealth. Does America place value on children in the
same way? I wonder if we view AIDS as something that impacts people
who do not have families - childless people partying and sleeping
around? I think this part of the campaign would fall flat in America
because it would simply not be understood, but I am clueless on how to
At the end of the day, I doubt we will ever see huge billboards about
AIDS (prevention or testing) along American roadsides. In today's
world that is a privileged place to be as it suggests AIDS is not of
epidemic proportions (at least not in the mainstream culture). But if
we ever move that direction, I hope that we take some time to learn
from our brothers and sisters in Africa. I think they might have a
thing or two to teach us.
Discuss May 26, 2010