CAPE TOWN, South Africa — American and South African high school students recently came together here with their teachers and principals to launch an HIV/AIDS prevention project that will link teenagers in this town with their counterparts in Southern California.

In the project, which is backed by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), students from Manenberg High School in Cape Town and Artesia High School in the ABC School District in Los Angeles County, Calif., will use the Internet and Web-based interactive technology to exchange information about the impact of HIV/AIDS in their respective communities.

“Our ability to come together across oceans and continents for this important effort illustrates once again a key fact about our schools: Education is so much more than math, science and reading,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said during ceremonies at Manenberg High School marking the official launching of the project. “Schools are also part of the life of the communities they serve.”

The information the students gather and exchange will help them understand the infected population in their communities, an AFT statement said. As a result, the students and their teachers will be better able to advocate for HIV testing, promote abstinence and condom use and support the families and orphans of AIDS victims.

The AFT said it has been active in AIDS prevention efforts in South Africa for more than a decade. Laura Rico, past president of the ABC Federation of Teachers in Southern California, helped make the Artesia/Manenberg project a reality. She and Weingarten took part in the project launch in Cape Town, where they also attended the Educational International World Congress.

The AIDS epidemic is having a devastating impact in South Africa. In its mid-2010 statistical report, the government estimated that 5.24 million people, or more than 10 percent of South Africans, were living with HIV. That report showed that AIDS has accounted for more than 40 percent of all deaths in the country every year since 2002.

In 2010, the South African government estimated there were 410,000 new HIV infections—40,000 of them among children. One response has been the South Africa Department of Basic Education’s new HIV/AIDS strategy that puts students and others in the school system at the center of efforts to achieve the next HIV-free generation.

“In this project, our focus is on preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS,” Weingarten said. “But the skills that it teaches—the ability to access information, to gain knowledge and, through critical thinking, to use that information to solve problems—will serve our students throughout their lives, whether they are here in Cape Town or Lakewood, Calif., or wherever they find themselves as they move through life.”

Others who took part in the July 25 launch of the project included Manenberg High School principal Thurston Brown, Artesia High School principal Sergio Garcia, and Thobile Ntola, president of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union.