The EFA staff chose to celebrate World AIDS Day this year by visiting AJUPS (l’Association des Jeunes Unis pour la Promotion de la Sante, or the Association of Young People United for Health Promotion) in Yagoua, one of the newest members of the EFA Youth Network.
Throughout 2014, this vibrant new association has concentrated its efforts on sensitization events in the surrounding community and the establishment of a number of income generation activities. In terms of sensitization, the members of AJUPS have elected to conduct door-to-door visits, in order to identify young people who might benefit from participation in the association. This method has already proven to be successful, as a number of young people have joined the association as a result. The members of AJUPS have been similarly successful with their efforts to generate income to support their activities. The association’s first income generation strategy was the cultivation of a field of white beans (a project made possible by the support of the mayor of Yagoua, the local lamido). Thanks to the foresight of the association’s president, the funds generated from the bean harvest were partially reinvested in next year’s crop, as well as the association’s other income generation activity (the sale of condoms in the community). The remainder of the income from the harvest was used to support CD4 screening for those association members unable to pay for their own health care costs.
The bravery and dedication of the AJUPS members has earned them the respect of their community members, despite the stigma surrounding HIV. Members of the association now feel re-integrated into society, as evidenced by the fact that some have found work outside the association (doing sewing and other odd jobs).
The work of AJUPS has clearly affected many in the community of Yagoua. Some have spoken to EFA about how the association has helped them to understand the situation of young people living with HIV/AIDS:
I have a limited knowledge of AJUPS but I am aware of its activities, namely the community field, condom distribution and the series of educational talks…In my view, it is necessary that people understand that having HIV / AIDS is not the end of life. The members [of the association] offer a shining example of commendable behavior in our society. I now know that I can share water with them… As an external observer, I can say that they need even more support.
Everybody in the EFA family is very proud of the progress that AJUPS has made in the last year, and we look forward to seeing what they accomplish in 2015!
It has been an exciting few months for AJUBS in Yagoua, one of the newest associations in EFA’s Youth Empowerment Network.
EFA has been working hard to reinforce the capacity of the association members, training them to conduct community sensitization activities about HIV/AIDS, manage their affairs, maintain a monitoring and evaluation system, and engage in advocacy work.
In recent months, the association members have completed an advocacy campaign by writing to all of the community leaders and NGOs working in Yagoua. The campaign yielded two important outcomes. First, both the Bishop and a representative of the local mosque responded by publicly encouraging the association members and promising their moral support. Second, the Mayor has given 100,000 CFA to the project and has also promised to allow the association to continue their work without paying any tax. This public support from local leaders sends an important message that vulnerable young people within the community are protected and signals the beginning of an end to discrimination and stigmatization against young people within HIV/AIDS in Yagoua.
AJUBS has also started a new income-generation activity - a field of beans. They hope the field will yield a substantial harvest even in its first year of operation. The field was donated by a family member of one of the members. The personal contributions of the members, plus the support of the Mayor, were used for start-up costs, such as purchasing seeds and spraying the fields against insects. The youth members now meet weekly in the field. In addition to working together towards a successful harvest, these weekly meetings serve as opportunities for the association members to discuss their situation and plan for their future work together. The members are hopeful that the income from the sale of the beans will help them to support their ongoing medical and nutrition costs.
Collectively, these projects have helped to bring the youth in the association together and to strengthen their hope in the future. One association member eloquently expressed this hope when she said: “For the last few weeks, all of us have been very busy working for ourselves in our field. This work has allowed us to see that we are supported. I would like to thank EFA for having opened our eyes.” (Dahaida Delphine, Treasurer of AJUBS).
Over this past quarter, EFA staff’s time and attention has been spent planning and preparing for a big day in the history of EFA – the public recognition ceremony for Mairamou Hamandjouma, President of ASSYSGOD, who was honored as an outstanding Community Health Worker by the REAL Award for her tireless work in support of young people infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS. EFA took this opportunity to not only celebrate Mairamou’s achievement but also to plan a large scale sensitization event to reach community members with HIV/AIDS education messages.
On June 28, the ceremony finally took place, and it marked a moment of deep pride for all members of the EFA family. In addition to publicly recognizing Mairmou’s outstanding courage and hard work, the ceremony gave all of us an opportunity to reflect on how far EFA has come since its establishment in 2006. Mairamou’s award ceremony was held on the esplanade of the Lamidat, the home of the Lamido (traditional leader of the Godola area). In total, more than 600 people attended the ceremony, including numerous dignitaries from across the region. The high-profile attendee list and prestigious location demonstrated the respect that EFA now commands amongst local leaders across the Extreme North. These relationships represent years of hard work by the local staff to spread the word about EFA’s unique approach, and they are vital for the continued success of EFA’s work.
The ceremony offered an ideal venue for community sensitization, and the association members seized the opportunity with gusto! Peer educators worked with EFA staff for months to plan a large sensitization activity during the event not only to educate the community but also to increase awareness about EFA’s activities. After an intense planning period, the event was held with great success. The day began with a presentation by the Peer Educators on the AIDS epidemic and opportunities for care and support in the region. Skits, poetry and games related to the fight against HIV/AIDS (and other sexually-transmitted diseases) followed, with lots of opportunity for participation by everybody in attendance. All of the sensitization activities were designed and delivered entirely by the youth association members, under the leadership of their presidents. This event had direct impacts on the community members reached and indirect impact through the media coverage that the event achieved. The months of planning were certainly worth the effort and marked one of EFA’s largest sensitization events since its creation.
It is impossible to hide how proud we are of the ever-so-brave members of the Education Fights AIDS youth associations. This story is about Djingui a member of our AJEPS association and one of our many remarkable association members!
Djingui, one of the EFA Peer Educators, told us about an every day peer educaiton moment. He was out in town and hopped on a moto to go home. He and the moto driver struck up a conversation about HIV. The driver told Djingui that he was concerned about his sister who was bed-ridden at home. He described the fairly typical AIDS-symptoms—supreme fatigue, weight-loss, and the list continues—to Djingui. Djingui confidently offered stigma-free and non-judemental counsel to his moto driver and convinced him to take his sister to get tested for HIV the next day.
Sure enough, the test came back positive. But, then, the moto driver realized to take action to get his sister healthy again, which they believed WAS possible because of Djingui’s testimonials about his own HIV+ status, he needed more money than he had available—moto drivers can usually expect to make $2-3 a day in Maroua.
Djingui brought the moto driver and his sister to us at EFA . . . and through the support that you offered, she got a CD4 test (a test used to measure the strength of the immune system), chest x-rays (she has suspected TB, too), and we paid for her stay at the hospital.
I find this little story remarkable on so many levels . . .
Djingui’s bravery to disclose his own status is remarkable. His commitment to these strangers is remarkable.
The moto driver’s dedication to his sister is remarkable, when so many families here reject their kids/sisters/brothers upon learning that they are HIV+.
The sister is remarkable for not losing hope as this all got figured out (the health care system is not as transparent as it ought to be!). And now, she and her brother are officially in the EFA fold! We are sure that with time they, too, will become outspoken leaders in the fight against HIV just as Djingui is!
This could not have occurred without your support of our Peer Education Program. You have literally touched so many lives. Thank you for your continued support!!
PS: We are participating in the Global Giving Match Day on May 7th! Won't you share our work with your friends?
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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EFA Country Representative
Extreme North Province