I feel proud about the improvements we made to the nutritional program in the past year with your help:
*We increased the program from once a week to twice a week.
*We renewed cooking materials with new pots and bowls so that the meal can be shared with more clinic staff.
*We built a roof over the cooking area so that the women and their kids would be protected from sun and rain.
All of these initiatives were requested by the women themselves and funded by you, loyal supporters of this program. I feel grateful that GAIA is able to help in such an immediate way. By listening to our constituents, we are able to ensure that you, the donors, make the biggest possible impact.
The HIV+ women are very grateful for this program as well. I can tell from the way they laugh and share stories together while they cook and catch up with their friends. Their lives are full of many hardships, and the twice-weekly gathering is a time to relax among their peers while the kids play together and keep an eye on their younger siblings. The women have plenty more suggestions on how to improve this program, and we intend to keep listening and facilitating improvements.
Please know that your gift has made a difference in these Malian women's lives, and please consider continuing your support of this program.
We thank you!
Mali is ranked as the last country (86 of 86) of all examined in the 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI), following Sudan, DRC, Yemen, and Somalia. The SIGI measures gender inequality by looking at discriminatory social institutions, such as violence against women, restricted access to public space, and restricted access to land and credit. Additionally, widowed women in Mali are the most vulnerable in relation to food insecurity.
This disheartening statistic on inequality is even more serious in the case of HIV+ women who constitute a sector of the population that is even more vulnerable. 32% of our patients are widowed and have six children on average. Although GAIA supports a portion of their medical costs, they possess few resources to support their children, and in the worst cases, they have been rejected by their extended families due to stigma surrounding their HIV status. Stigma remains a huge problem in Mali; due to grave social repercussions following a seropositive diagnosis, many are reluctant to get tested or pursue treatment. While social groups for women throughout the neighborhood exist, the HIV+ women are often excluded from these activities. As a result of extreme poverty, it is far likelier that the child of an HIV+ parent will drop out of school to get married (in the case of a girl) or work to support the family (in the case of a boy).
Through GAIA’s MTCTP program, we have ensured that the children of our patients are HIV free. Now, we need to safeguard their fragile futures by helping their mothers create a better life for the whole family. In the words of Koumba, a member of the group, “I don’t have means but with the little bit of resources that I find I feed my children. My five children don’t have the disease so I do everything I can so that they stay healthy”. When HIV+ patients were interviewed, they specifically requested a microfinance project. In the words of Ramata, “The most important thing that I want is to sell merchandise so I can earn money to feed my children”.
As a result of GAIA’s 10-year effort to create unifying programs, the HIV+ patients at our clinic have formed an association that has recently gained legal standing. Their goal is to promote knowledge and awareness about HIV/AIDS in Mali and to reduce stigma for those living with HIV/AIDS.
We are eager to support them for this great cause. In addition to continuing our Nutritional support program, we want to help the HIV+ mothers expand their association to include more members and more activities.
With your help, we can work towards stability and food security for HIV patients and their families. Please join us in supporting this fledgling association.
In commemoration of World AIDS Day (December 1st) and Giving Tuesday (December 2nd), we have a new video for you from our collaborators in Mali. Peer educator, Socrates; community leader, Rokia; and GAIA program director, Dr. Tounkara speak about stigma, mother-to-child transmission prevention, and access to care.
GAIA has made significant progress in the 10 YEARS since we started working with the clinic in Sikoro to treat the first HIV+ patients.... but there is still much work to be done.
Check out our video here.
We offer our gratitude for your continued support! Please think of us during the giving season!
Our conditions are not ideal: the only space for the cooking activities is in the crowded courtyard of our Hope Center Clinic, between the maternity ward and the consultation rooms. Our patients however, are eager to make do with whatever they have. Rain or shine, they cook the weekly meal for all the HIV patients and their children.
These women have overcome so much living in a society that is still learning to treat HIV+ people with dignity. As Socrates, our peer educator explained,
Stigma is real. I can tell you that today things are a tiny bit better, but it's not eliminated. Before, when someone tested postitve, they were automatically abandoned by their family, fired from their jobs, and rejected by the community because of their positive status. The stress of that will kill a person. It's not the disease that will kill them.
The women at our clinic had have access to epathetic caregivers and as much pychosocial support as we could provide. It is clear from their testimonies that they have broken through many boundaries imposed by stigma, even if they lost husbands or children along the way. As "Mama" explains using that particular gift of diction that Malians possess,
With my close family I don't have any problems; my father, my mother, my brothers and sisters; they all support me with my HIV status. People around me, however, talk about me behind my back. I don't care though, because this isn't something that I took my money and bought at the market place, this is part of God's plan for me.
Our HIV+ patients are strong and self-reliant, and they have goals for their own lives and big dreams for their children, yet their every day lives are full the of immediate challenges of trying to care for their families with the little that they have.
With only $200, GAIA Vaccine Foundation purchased new cooking supplies for the group; shiny pots and pans and new plates to accomodate the group's increasing numbers. We set up a tin roof to protect the cooks and their children from the sun and the rain.
With a mere $75 per week, we have now increased the cooking activity from once weekly to twice weekly: Wednesdays and Fridays.
These are small improvements that can be accomoplished with very small funds. There is so much more that we need to do, but as a small foundation, we are doing the best we can with the little that we have.
With your support, our patients are now happily cooking with their new pots. Please consider giving a donation that would futher increase our capacity to provide nutritional support.
Many thanks from everyone at the Hope Center Clinic!
Our Hope Center Clinic is an “integrated” clinic. What does that mean? All people seeking treatment are welcome, and thanks to our donor support, we have the capacity to care for HIV+ patients as well. We are the only neighborhood clinic to have this capacity in Bamako while most seropositive patients must find their way to one of the larger hospitals. Sometimes even the low cost of public transportation can prevent someone from seeking treatment, which is why we try to set the example for how HIV care could improve by providing access to medication locally.
But why “integrated”? Why not support an HIV only clinic? The sad truth of the matter is that if anyone were to walk through the doors of a known HIV clinic, they would live in permanent fear of abuse from their own neighbors. They would risk abandonment by their family members, and permanent stigmatization by society. At the integrated clinic they can fly under the radar; they say that they are “sick” even if they look in perfect health; they say that they have malaria.
Obviously, it would be better if everyone could disclose their status and receive the proper care they deserve, but that’s not yet a possibility in Mali, although it’s a goal that we are working towards.
In the meantime, it is of crucial importance to provide people with peer support and nutritional assistance. By creating the Friday lunch at the clinic, seropositive patients can spend time together, and cook a large meal to share with their children as well as their well-loved doctors and nurses. Not only is food of critical importance to these patients, some of whom are living in dire poverty, but it also allows them the dignity of giving a symbolic gift of thanks to those who provide them with care and empathy.
Last Friday, I had the honor of sharing a meal with our patients. When I arrived early in the morning, the women were already hard at work peeling garlic, chopping vegetables, frying fish, pounding spicy peppers into a sauce, and boiling rice. There were kids everywhere, living proof that our Mother to Child Transmission Prevention program (MTCTP) is so successful that our patients are confidently increasing their families.
The women told me their stories. They spoke with pride, saying that HIV has not prevented them from living their life to the fullest. They spoke with sadness about the neighbors that insulted them, or even the husbands who had abandoned them. They spoke about living in fear that people would find out their status. They spoke about the misery of not having any food in the house and many children to feed. A young girl, born seropositive, was so shy that she barely said a word. She wanted her story told as well, and with a friend’s arm around her shoulder, she had the courage to let it out: Her mother had died, her father had remarried and his new wife abused her and insulted her because of her status.
I wish I could show you these strong women and their beautiful children. I wish you could hear their words. I need, however, to respect their wishes. They did not want photographs to appear online that connected them to HIV, they live in fear of being recognized as seropositive, although they know in other countries people would never abuse them for their status.
How many of us would like to support charities, but worry about where our money is going and how it is being spent? The best thing about my job is that I can talk to the HIV+ patients of the clinic directly, and get their feedback about what works, so that I can assure that GAIA’s funds are put towards the most essential issues. We are trying to improve our nutritional education program. At the Friday lunch the women told me exactly what they needed:
“We need a roof over our heads; nothing protects from the sun or rain as we cook. Look at this broken pot; we need more supplies. Look at this women with the tiny baby; she just started coming and this will be the only time today that she will get any to eat”
We need to do more. We need to expand the nutritional support to at least twice a week. Our clinic doctors confirm that more nutritional support would help patients adhere to their medication and support their families.
With your continued support, we can provide an essential meal to HIV+ patients and their families. We don’t want to do it just once or twice, we want to keep doing it month after month, year after year, so that these women can keep caring for each other and their families, providing much needed psychological support, as we all work towards a better future.
All my heartfelt thanks!
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