Wednesday, July 16, 2014

More Than Just AIDS

As we’ve settled into our new home and adjusted to the early morning wake-up call of goats and cows grazing just outside our windows, I’ve learned just how much can be accomplished in a day despite the “pole pole” pace of African Time. Our crash course on WOPLAH’s wide-ranging work has only just begun, and yet we’ve already gained numerous insights into the scope of and processes behind WOPLAH’s impact. In the past two days alone, it has become clear that WOPLAH’s reach extends far beyond those who have been directly affected by HIV/AIDS.

Yesterday we joined Edwin at the Maternal Child Health Center to generate an outline for monitoring and evaluation (M&E) questionnaires. In addition to the kitchen gardens, goat, poultry and jiggers projects – of which I already had an understanding – we discussed in depth WOPLAH’s village banking and community dialogue programs. Even more interesting however, were Edwin’s instructions on how such questions would be delivered. Prompts must be broad and inclusive of many questions so that respondents may answer in a story-like manner. While Americans are accustomed to numerous specific questions, Edwin warned that respondents would become bored and uninterested if we were to list out our many inquiries. Furthermore, when determining weaknesses within the program, it is better to ask generally if there is anything else they would like to share. This ensures that beneficiaries do not think they are listing problems they have experienced – which they would shy away from out of respect – but rather allowing them to illuminate details that convey such issues tacitly. We were all grateful for his attention to these small details that were to us unexpected potential cultural barriers.

After a long midday walk, we took our reliable piki pikis to visit the Siowote (Not All) Self Help Group. Formed in March and comprised primarily of men, the members use WOPLAH’s village banking system to raise pigs for income generation. They were extremely friendly, and very eager to make their way into our photo albums. Only after returning to our compound did Edwin mention the group’s unique background: all members had been male sex workers since childhood (and some still are). Some of the men are HIV positive, and those who still engage in sex work are provided with condoms and continued education regarding prevention. Over time, as the pigs and other future microfinance projects return a stable profit, we hope they will no longer feel dependent upon the sex industry.

Over the next few weeks we will conduct interviews with the majority of WOPLAH’s beneficiaries in order to gain insight into the intricacies of implementation, define the impact these programs achieve, and determine opportunities for improvement. Witnessing a group of 18 men debate their individual debts and collective assets, when just months ago they were selling themselves on the streets, was incredibly inspiring. And while not every group that WOPLAH collaborates with is explicitly composed of those living with HIV/AIDS, the impact is just the same. By empowering all members of a community together, WOPLAH is creating a healthy integrated environment in which people living positively may flourish.

- Shannon (International Political Economy Major / Urban Studies Minor, Class of 2016)

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