It is always exciting to be a part of something new. This week I have had a wonderful opportunity to work with other members in the community to launch a new HIV/Aids programme within the Kasese District.
The town of Kasese is located in the Rwenzori Mountains, on the border with the Congo. In one of the surrounding mountain villages, there is a great natural resource: a fast moving river. Very recently a Norwegian company has come in to harness this resource and has built a hydro-electric power plant which will provide electricity for many surrounding communities.
The company is a really responsible outside investor. They have employed many from the surrounding villages and are reinvesting a portion of their profits in "community development" in the sub-county where they have built the plant.
The company conducted a test of all their employees and discovered that 62% of them were HIV positive. Thus, the "community development" project has become this new HIV/Aids programme, of which I am privileged to be a part.
This week I worked with several others to compile a baseline survey/questionnaire that we will administer in schools and around the community to gage general knowledge and awareness of HIV (how it is spread, the disease, symptoms) as well as sexual practices (condom use) and health care habits (seek care from hospital/traditional healers, etc). From there we will begin to form HIV awareness clubs in the schools that can perform dramas and conduct discussion groups within their schools. It is much more effective to start something long-term and peer driven than for me, a muzungu who is only present for a few more weeks, to implement short-term projects. This is , of course, the meaning of grassroots!
We are also trying to figure out how to target the sex workers and prostitutes within the community. This is a group that has been largely ignored and is a large contributor in the epidemic. Many young girls prostitute themselves to earn their school fees. Also, because of the mountains, there is considerable tourism in this region for hiking...so a lot of students drop out of school to become porters and guides. Thus, there are 13 primary schools in the sub-county and only 2 secondary schools! So, we want to target the older teens who are not in school...it is difficult to figure out how to best do this.
n the mean time, I have been conducting some sex-ed classes with my high schoolers. Not a turn in my life I ever expected...but it is currently where I find myself!
I spent the morning discussing bacterial and viral STDs, answering tons of questions and talking openly about the stigma related with going for HIV testing and condom use. I tried to make parallels for students that as peers, we are the reason that each other is embarrassed to be seen buying condoms or going for testing...thus eliminating stigma starts with us.
It has been an eventful week. I have been honored to work along-side other community members and be a small part of something new :)