Monday, July 18, 2011

Things, They Are a Changin'

There have been some major changes in my primary work assignment over the last few months. Light and Courage started in 1998 in response to the AIDS epidemic in Francistown. Before the government began providing ARVs, people were dying in large numbers and the center was started to provide palliative and respite care. They continued this task up until recently. In 2006, the center received a substantial grant from PEPFAR to provide in patient and home based care for people living with AIDS. The former director even flew to Washington to meet with President Bush.
The center had nurses and assistants that would care for people and help them manage the disease. They provided counseling, education, care and some rehabilitation for a few thousand clients. Sadly, funding does come to an end and the grant expired in November 2010. The center had some remaining funds and used those to finish up the grant and operated until March of this year. In March, most of the staff was let go and the center proceeded with closeout procedures from March to June. This mainly involved a financial audit and the preparation of a closeout report that summarized all the activities and results of the PEPFAR grant.
Meanwhile, the center did get one grant from an NGO in North Carolina (RTI) that focused on HIV prevention to ask risk populations. In comparison to the PEPFAR grant, it is small grant that employs 5 people and a few volunteers. The project focuses on training peer educators who then go out to various parts of the city to teach young women HIV prevention and provide referrals for sexual and reproductive health services such as HIV testing. A major focus of the project is to do outreach in local bars called shebeens (SHA-beens). It is never a dull moment when you go to talk to people getting drunk on traditional beer about condoms and HIV.
The project has 14 peer educators and I work with them to do training and support of their outreaches. I wanted to be directly involved in an HIV prevention project when I came here and it has been both challenging and fun so far. I did training for all the educators on the basics of HIV and other STIs and showed them how to do peer education and condom demonstrations. We meet weekly to discuss the previous week’s work, do refresher trainings, and I sometimes go out into the field with them to do condom demonstrations and other trainings.
This is a big change (for the better) from what I was previously doing at Light and Courage. It is almost like I have a whole new work assignment. I have more than enough work to keep me busy for the next 10 months and it has been illuminating in showing what it takes to run a project in the “real world” and the major challenges in HIV prevention and behavior change (and all the paperwork that goes with it).