December 1, 2012 is World AIDS Day. Today, we at Opportunity International stand with millions around the world, including our clients, in the fight against HIV/AIDS. As an organization that offers AIDS education in some of the world’s hardest hit communities, we look forward to the day when families, friends and clients are freed from the yoke of this disease.
Today, millions of people worldwide will pause to reflect on the global pandemic that has done so much to define this century of human history. While too many have lost loved ones to AIDS, today is not an event of mere remembrance. Today we celebrate awareness and encouragement for those living with HIV/AIDS, those affected by the disease and those on the forefront of providing care, assistance and hope for a cure.
Sub-Saharan Africa has been particularly devastated by AIDS. According to UNICEF, in Uganda alone there are approximately 2.5 million orphans. Nearly half of these children – 1.2 million – have been left parentless by the disease. In a country where more than 65% of the population lives on less than $2 per day, many providers that are already stretched beyond capacity in an effort to make ends meet see their families continuing to grow as they take in those who have been orphaned by AIDS. According to an Opportunity Uganda staff member, it’s “unlikely to find any home that does not have an orphan within it.”
In addition to providing essential, poverty-alleviating microfinance services, we at Opportunity International believe that dialogue and training around AIDS are critical steps in turning the tide in the war against this disease. We seek to empower our clients with knowledge that allows them to claim a brighter future. Fortunately, we are not alone in this effort.
This past fall, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Opportunity International and the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital partnered to design a comprehensive training curriculum that spreads awareness and education on a wide variety of health issues, including HIV and AIDS. During the program’s pilot phase, 1,200 clients have been trained by doctors from the hospital, including Opportunity loan officers who in turn deliver the training directly to their clients.
The 12-session curriculum offered in Opportunity DR Congo’s Trust Groups promotes a holistic approach to AIDS, encouraging dialogue and oral storytelling among our clients, so that even those who are illiterate will benefit from this critical training. In a country like DR Congo, every individual, whether infected or not, has had their lives forever changed by the disease. But, despite its pervasiveness, AIDS is still not properly understood and remains highly stigmatized there, as in many other areas of the world. Our training covers critical information that is sometimes taken for granted: how HIV/AIDS is transmitted, how it can be prevented, and other information that dispels detrimental myths and rumors.
In all the countries where Opportunity offers this training, its biggest impact is the story of a fictional character dealing with AIDS, such as this account of “Anna”:
Anna’s husband Paul died of AIDS, leaving Anna to take care of her three children: Nathaniel, Irene and Peter. Through testing, Anna knows that she and baby Nathaniel are HIV-positive and that Peter and Irene are HIV-negative. One evening at dinner, Anna talks to her children, saying, “Our family has suffered from HIV/AIDS. My wish is that you will grow up and have healthy children of your own. I love you and want to be sure you know how to protect yourselves from HIV/AIDS.”
What follows are some very frank conversations as Anna’s fictional story develops each week. Through these conversations, clients are equipped with the tools they need to talk to their children and connect with local testing facilities and clinics. They make personal commitments to take action and refuse to let HIV/AIDS continue to tear families, communities and nations apart.
Thank you for supporting Opportunity International’s fight against AIDS, today and every day.
Brad Skeba is a Proposal Writer in the Resource Development department at Opportunity International.