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C-SAFE: HIV/AIDS and Nutrition Newsletter Mar 2005
Relief Web
March 28, 2005

C-SAFE Tackles Stigma around HIV and AIDS

Eleven staff from CRS, World Vision, CARE and ADRA spent a week in Johannesburg designing and planning 1-day staff training sessions for delivery in Zambia and Zimbabwe. These training sessions are intended to provide their own colleagues with a better understanding of the ways in which stigma influences services and programs in their own workplaces. The process was spearheaded by a 3 day conference led by David Patient and Neil Orr, using a process called Open Spaces Technology.

Recognizing that stigma reduction is personal and individual with no single universal approach, participants identified more than twenty topics related to HIV/AIDS and stigma. Among them were perceptions and experiences of stigma by youth and women, self-stigmatization, the influence of religious leaders and of the media, practical strategies to overcome stigma in various settings and the monitoring and evaluation of interventions.

A series of one-day long C-SAFE workshops began March 7 in Zimbabwe and March 15 in Zambia as a follow-up to the Johanesburg training. Early feedback from the workshops has been excellent, with one participant noting that "This workshop is a great success - we are taking the mask off HIV."

Food for Assets Programs Assist People Living with HIV and AIDS
The Food for Assets (FFA) program being run by CARE Zimbabwe has transformed the lives of people living with HIV and AIDS (PLHA) in Gutu, Zimbabwe. Following the initial community sensitization and a series of meetings, communities have begun to propose projects that meet the needs of their most vulnerable. "The projects range from communal fields and backyard gardens to digging of shallow wells and addressing specific individual needs such as hut construction. The needs vary from community to community," said Lynah Matsikiti, Acting Team Leader. Once the project is approved, the workers receive a food basket consisting of cereals, cooking oil and beans in exchange for their labor.

Lack of HIV testing (as a result of fear, lack of voluntary counseling test facilities or both) has posed a challenge in the targeting of would-be beneficiaries. "We found out most people do not know their status until their situation develops into full-blown AIDS," said Matsikiti. She said that initially, individuals were reluctant to come out in the open and reveal their HIV status for fear of being stigmatized. However, working closely with AIDS Support Organizations and Clinics has really helped CARE staff to identify people living with HIV and AIDS and offer the appropriate support.

Openness and self-identification has increased dramatically since the introduction of the projects, as communities realize that there are benefits to be drawn by coming out in the open. "We have witnessed a high level of acceptance, as every household has been affected by the pandemic," said Tendai Mahove, Acting Field Supervisor.

Esther Chimwanda is living with HIV and through the FFA initiative, she has set up a vegetable garden. Her garden has a variety of vegetables that include rape, cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes and carrots.

Besides having vegetables for consumption, Esther has been able to sell the surplus to raise money for books and pens for her two children who are in primary school. During our visit to the project site, Esther's brother, Kwashirai Chimwanda, was watering some of the produce. "As a family we embrace the situation our sister is in and we are so grateful to CARE for coming up with a program that has made life easier for us," said Kwashirai.

The Sezani AIDS Support Group in Gwanda is another example where FFA can draw people together, not only to receive assistance but to support each other.

When asked whether people feared being labeled when they came forward to receive support, member Florence Dube responded, "As for being labeled, we would rather come out in the open and get professional assistance than die in ignorance. Since the introduction of these projects people have been encouraged to get tested because they realize there are benefits to be drawn from declaring one's status. Generally people are accepting that AIDS is like any other disease. Tell me, is there anything new about this disease? At the end of it all, everyone is dying -- we are all affected."

Staff have been using a new C-SAFE Tool: a Checklist that helps them to analyze new projects with HIV and AIDS in mind (see note below). This more structured approach has been welcomed by staff, as the CARE Gweru HIV/AIDS Focal Point Person, Abel Wande, noted: "Working together on FFA planning and implementation creates opportunities for the people most affected by HIV to do something proactive, and to develop social network groups that will continue to support each other in future. Thus we are creating not only a physical asset but social capital as well."

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