South African children are drinking from a young age, and our country has the unenviable ranking of being the third-largest consumer of alcohol in Africa, and 19th in the world. The liquor industry is seriously concerned by the stats which show that our young people are in fact drinking from as young as 15 years (18 is the legal drinking age). The conversation needs to be started earlier. This is the rationale behind this programme – It Starts Today.

The programme is underlined by research methodology, tools and techniques in partnership with the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). The HSRC will assist in the monitoring and evaluation of the pilot in order for further refinements of the programme before full roll-out.

To date the programme has been piloted in the Free State and Mpumalanga regions.

Underage drinking is common in South Africa. Accordingly, aware.org has developed a multi-pronged programme to address underage drinking. One element of the programme is the distribution of specially developed material aligned to CAPS to schools for use in Life Orientation classes, allied with support for the teachers via workshops and online support. Aware.org have also developed a zero-rated content portal (www.awarefreewifi.co.za) to further assist the programme and community at large.

The It Starts Today programme aims to change the behaviour of junior high school learners (Grades 8 and 9), and senior primary school learners (Grades 5 to7), with regards to alcohol consumption. This will mean changing harmful attitudes and practices regarding alcohol in these learners, and by changing the attitude towards underage drinking within the broader community in which these learners live. The programme takes its message to parents, teachers, tavern owners, church leaders, local government structures and the rest of society.

An allied initiative, Project Isizwe, enhances the portal accessibility by providing Internet hotspots at participating schools and across townships. The Project Isizwe Wi-fi rollout includes access to free content, news and a micro-job ambassador programme. It provides internet support for It Starts Today by providing the right tools to educate and ultimately change behaviour. The content is tailored material for learners, educators, caregivers and parents alike. In addition, the township Wi-fi roll out will include added services.