Education Fights Aids (EFA) International

The mission of EFA International is to promote the successful future of African children, youth and families affected by HIV and AIDS through education, enterprise, and empowerment. EFA International is working towards this mission by empowering young people with the skills, resources, and support they need to live positive and healthy lives.
Mar 10, 2014

First steps toward the transition

Since our last update, things have been progressing quickly in Cameroon!

Over the last few months, Alim – EFA International’s former Regional Coordinator and EFA Cameroun’s new Director – has been working tirelessly to lay the groundwork for the official launch of EFA Cameroun. The early stages of a transition are never particularly glamorous, but they are key aspects of a responsible and sustainable handover. The staff in Cameroon are proving their efficiency and professionalism every day, as they work through a seemingly thankless list of administrative tasks – drafting bylaws, registering with the tax authorities, establishing pay scales, etc. All of these vital first steps have now been accomplished, and we are ready to move into the more strategic phase of the transition over the next few months.

Perhaps most importantly, EFA Cameroun now has an impressive and inspiring new national board! The national board is a diverse group of HIV stakeholders, including Dr. Rebecca Djao, regional delegate for the Department of Public Health in the Far North region of Cameroon, Dr. Sadou Kalandi, coordinator of the HIV Regional Technical Group in the Far North, and Mr. Maurice Kwite, who leads a social marketing agency within the border region with Chad. The new national board also includes civil society representatives from HIV care and support organizations, such as Mme. Rose Didja Bouba (currently with CARE Cameroon) and Mme. Aissa Doumara, who works with a local organization in Maroua that is committed to the fight against gender-based violence. Mr. Pierre Tchana, a local lawyer who represents civil society organizations in the region, Mr. Blaise Djilo, an economist who supports income generation projects throughout Cameroon, and Mr. Bouba Bawa, who works with the High Commission for Refugees, have also joined the Board. All of the new board members have worked with EFA at some phase during its development and are deeply committed to seeing it through this next phase.

Preparations are now underway for EFA Cameroun’s first board meeting in mid-June. At the first meeting, the new Board will undergo targeted training on their roles and responsibilities as Board members and group activities, designed to foster teamwork and a shared sense of commitment and dedication - to EFA as an organization, to the Youth Empowerment Network and to all of EFA's beneficiaries. Everyone is looking forward to coming together to usher in a sustainable and successful future for EFA Cameroun.

We are so very proud to have this formidable group of individuals joining us in the fight against AIDS. Their perspective, influence, and experience will help us to stay true to our mission: to promote the successful future of Cameroonian children, youth, and families affected by HIV and AIDS through education, enterprise, and empowerment.

Thanks to your early support for this transition, we are well on our way to ensuring a sustainable future for EFA Cameroun! We look forward to staying in touch with you as things progress over the next few months.

Feb 10, 2014

Confronting Stigma in Cameroon

I try my best to follow the news in Cameroon, especially the news that might affect the young people in our network. This week, I came across an article called Cameroon: Enduring HIV Stigma in Cameroon.

The article highlights all of the ways in which people living with HIV are stigmatized...there are no laws on the books to protect someone from discrimination, there is discriminiation within health care, within banking and insurance, within the formal and informal sectors of employment, 

In reading the article, I could have been discouraged. I could have thought the worst for the youth in our network for they could even be seen as doubly discriminated against--for their HIV+ status and their age. 

Yet, when I read the article, I was reminded of all the significant ways in which Education Fights AIDS (EFA) tackles all of these issues. 

First, by creating associations around the region that are linked with each other, we are creating a support system to guard against discrimination and to fight discrimination when it occurs. I am reminded of a story of one of our association members who sold breakfast outside of her home each and every morning. One morning, when she was setting up for the day, she noticed that there was graffiti on the exterior wall of her home: "Eat Here and Get AIDS". She alerted her association members and they acted fast to paint over the graffiti. Then, they went to the authorities and ended up fighting the case as a hate crime in the courts. She was victorious in the end. 

That is the power of EFA! Not only did she have a support system, she had a support system that was empowered enough to act out their support! 

At the very center of our fight is a fight for health. The Circle of Love helps us win that fight by providing medications and transportation to access health care. By assuring health, we can assure that we also fight discrimination at every turn.  Our youth deserve nothing less.

Feb 3, 2014

Successful outcomes - and an international honor! - for ASSYSGOD

ASSYSGOD members at their community garden
ASSYSGOD members at their community garden

In 2006, fear and stigma around HIV ran rampant in Godola, a small, rural and conservative town in the Far North Region of Cameroon.  Around that time, Mairamou Hamandjouma discovered her own HIV positive status and confronted the stigma and fear in her community head on.  After several low-key, specifically targeted, and wildly effective education campaigns, word was out.  The community could seek guidance without shame or hesitation from Mairamou.  Soon, HIV+ people in the community sought Mairamou out and were eager to join her newly formed association - The Association of Sympathizers of the Sector of Godola and Dogba (ASSYSGOD).

In the years since, Mairamou has been at the helm of ASSYSGOD.  She leads her association with a remarkable sense of vision and clarity.  She engages community members in such a way where she quietly and respectfully gains support from key figures within the community despite the stigma and discrimination she faces.  It required tremendous fortitude and strength of character for her to have been the first in her community to so publicly reveal her HIV status. Yet, she is driven by her conviction that her life can act as an example to other people and that she can change the tide of discrimination and stigma.  From the results over the last seven years, it is working!

ASSYSGOD, with Mairamou as its president, is now one of the most productive associations in EFA's Youth Empowerment Network. Each one of the association members conducts their own individual income-generating project - repairing bicycles, for example, or selling beignets - while also contributing to the association's central revenue-generating activity: a commercially successful community garden.  The income raised by these activities supports the health and wellbeing of the association members and their families, covering the cost of vital expenses such as medical care and school fees for the members' children.

Mairamou is also a trained and highly experienced peer educator and an official trainer-of-trainers for future peer educators. This means that she not only educates her own association members about HIV and the means of living positively, she leads the association members in community-wide HIV prevention and stigma-reduction education efforts. In affiliation with the local community health center, ASSYSGOD's peer educators run prenatal consultations with HIV positive women in the community, coordinate vaccination campaigns and hold training sessions on family planning, malnutrition and the prevention of opportunitistic infections, including cholera and malaria. This vital work has largely been possible thanks to your donations, which have sustained the Peer Education Program over the years. 

This past World AIDS Day (December 1, 2013), Mairamou and the rest of ASSYSGOD coordinated an extensive sensitization event, which reached more than 3,000 community members.  In addition to the community-wide event, the association members scheduled individual counseling with more than 20 people and made 62 home visits, referring more than 30 people to local HIV care and support services.  

Today, we are thrilled to announce that it is no longer only her association members and the EFA community who recognize Mairamou's tremendous leadership.  Mairamou has been selected as an honoree for the REAL Awards in recognition of the remarkable and inspiring work that she has done to support those living with HIV in her community. We have always been in awe of Mairamou, the strength of her conviction, and the vision that drives her. Please join us in celebrating this wonderful recognition of a remarkable young woman. Congratulations, Mairamou!!

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