Irene* is petite, with almond-shaped eyes and a brillant smile. She is married with one child and an eighth grade education. Irène is HIV-epositive. These facts alone are enough to make her story brave, exceptional. Many women in northern Cameroon are told than an HIV diagnosis is a death sentence and are rejected by their families.
In 2006, Irène connected with EFA International, where she met with other HIV-positive individuals and learned how to stay healthy and live positively. She underwent EFA’s comprehensive 6-month peer education training and now teaches her village about the importance of HIV prevention. That they can protect their children and families from the scourges of AIDS in a country where one in 20 adults has HIV. That they too can defy stigma and face an ominous diagnosis to manage what has become chronic disease: requiring daily awareness, discipline, and resources, but something that does not keep them from following and fulfilling their dreams.
Then I learned that Irène was suffering from a uterine tumor. The unmonitored tumor had grown to such extent that she could feel its presence by pressing on her abdomen. If Irène was not operated on immediately,then she would not survive. She did not have the money to receive the operation. Could we step in to save the life of a woman in whom we had invested so much, and who had given so much in return?
Some colleagues warned that if EFA officially stepped in, it would open a floodgate of medical requests. Most of EFA’s youth empowerment network members do not have the luxury of insurance or extra income to cover health emergencies and rely on family and friends. But I could not stop thinking about Irène’s smile, her energy and willingness to give back to something greater.
A week passed. I received an update from EFA’s regional office. Irène’s community, family and friends had collected the money she needed for the operation. EFA saved Irène because its programs had empowered her. Her village valued the hope and knowledge that Irene was giving to young people. Irène is more than her HIV status. She is a change agent within her community.
Unfortunately, we cannot pay the hospital bills of each individual. Our Circle of Love project has just been launched on GlobalGiving to fill financial gaps so HIV-positive individuals can afford medical tests. But EFA's peer education empowers HIV-positive individuals to mobilize and know how, when, and where to seek medical care. By staying healthy and practice safe behaviors, they are less likely to transmit HIV within their communities. This positive prevention is one of EFA’s core values.
* Name has been changed to protect individual’s privacy.
My name is Laurel Chor and I am a GlobalGiving intern who is visiting all of our partner organizations in Cameroon! Let me tell you about my visit to the project that you donated to…
It is often said that in reality, it is not HIV/AIDS that kills--it is stigma that does. It is because of stigma that people are afraid to get tested, ashamed to admit their status or to seek treatment, and embarrassed to even talk about the realities of the epidemic. Stigma isolates people, strangles discussion and spreads the virus. The dream of Education Fights AIDS (EFA) is for "the idea of stigmatization to be completely erased." EFA's goal is to empower youth aged 15-35 who are affected by HIV/AIDS by helping them to create associations. Each one is independent, unique and has their own activities, but they all share three primary goals: empowerment, education and enterprise. These associations are given technical assistance, training and some funding by EFA, but ultimately they want them to be completely autonomous and independent entities. EFA also runs a peer education program, in which they train members of the associations to go back into their communities to "sensibilize" people--which means to educate them in order to remove the stigmatization and discrimination that surrounds HIV/AIDS. Each peer educator we met had a unique story, but they all had a common thread: thanks to EFA and to the associations, they were transformed from a lost, humiliated and hopeless person to a confident and passionate advocate who is respected in their communities. In these associations, HIV-affected youth find a second family and a newfound purpose in life. Youth who were once kicked out of their homes after finding out their HIV status were now invited back as favored children after proving that they could be productive members of society, thanks to their associations' income-generating activities. Now, parents approach EFA directly, asking them to help their HIV-positive children--something that was entirely unheard of just a few years ago. Sali did not have a choice when she was married off at the age of 13. She found out she was HIV+ a year after her husband died of AIDS. At the time, she didn't know much about HIV--she was taught about it in school but she thought that it was "only for prostitutes, and that married couples were spared." This is exactly the kind of stigmatization that she now fights against. She is currently the president of her local association and is determined to allow her daughters to marry who they want, when they want--no matter the social pressures. Thérèse Pehlem, 32, has been a member of her association since 2006. She described her feelings when she found out she was HIV-positive: I had no hope, I was alone, I was stuck, I was lost. I told myself that life was over. Now, she is not only a peer educator, but a trainer of peer educators: "I used to be scared, but now, put me in front of a church, a crowd, a whole community! They ask me left and right to talk about my experiences!" When I asked her if she could say something in a video, she leaped at the request, ready to talk, and it was clear that this was where she excelled and shined--speaking about HIV to teach others. Albert Jumbo, 36 years old, has been a member for 5 years. Having lost his wife to AIDS just a year ago, he raises four young children on his own. When he first found out he was HIV+, he told himself that he would just sell all his things, and live the rest of his life in isolation and idleness: "I didn't care about associations, and I didn't even want to be near these people… but now I'm a peer educator, and I'm not even scared of sensibilizing a whole church congregation!" It was truly inspiring to hear about the personal transformations of the individuals we met, and they were so vibrant and passionate that it was almost hard to believe that they had once lost all hope. Amazingly, not a single member of all of EFA's associations has passed away in the past two years--a testament to the life-changing effects of EFA's associations.
EFA Activities for April-June 2011
EFA International's peer educators and support associations continue to expand with increasing projects and activities. In March and April, a TrustAfrica grant enabled EFA International's peer educators to reach more than 8,000 community members in more than 10 communities with talks about sexual- and gender-based violence (S-GBV). Peer educators focused on discussing preventing S-GBV and communicating gender equality education messages.
EFA International's Treasurer, Andrew Koleros, and Secretary, Kayt Dickens, also visited the regional office in Maroua, Cameroon for a couple weeks this quarter as part of a consulting and monitoring and evaluation visit. While in Maroua, Kayt attended several of the associations' meetings; visited two associations' enterprise projects; conducted computer trainings in Picasa, Google Docs and Google sites with regional office personnel; and conducted follow-up interviews with participants of the S-GBV trainings.
Andrew conducted site visits to associations while in Maroua, and associations also set their goals for 2011. Goals include additional member recruitment, increasing the number of community education sessions, and improving income generation activities. Associations also identified their strategies for achieving these goals, as well as discussed what technical assistance EFA International can offer to aide in meeting the goals.
This quarter, the Maroua regional office hired an accountant. The office also is improving operations by implementing weekly staff meetings to discuss both current and upcoming projects. EFA International's technical assistants are continuing to develop new associations in the communities of Pete and Bogo, both in the Extreme North of Cameroon. EFA International's Program Manager, Technical Advisor and Peer Educator Trainer are in the planning stage of a project to design and produce image and educational resource materials for Peer Educators.
In June, the coordination committee for the Youth Empowerment Network will meet for two days. EFA International also plans to officially register an association in Tokombere.
In addition to the Trust Africa grant S-GBV trainings, EFA Board member in-country visits and other special activities conducted this quarter, habitual activities also continued, including home visits, community education sessions, association meetings, and enabling association members to get care, treatment and CD4 tests, as needed.
EFA International would like to deeply thank all of the Global Giving donors and supporters who help make our work of enabling African youth to live positively possible. Without your help, EFA International's projects wouldn't be carried out, and we are so grateful to you for helping us to conduct them and help individuals in Cameroon!
The months of January through March 2011 were especially productive ones for the EFA International regional office. First, sadly, EFA bid adieu et grand merci to our technical advisor Peace Corps Volunteer Caitlyn Bradburn who worked for two years to serve the mission of EFA to promote the successful future of African children and youth infected and/or affected by HIV/AIDS through education and empowerment. Notably, Caitlyn started the "Circle of Love" campaign, which earmarks gifts to pay for the diagnostic tests and necessary transport to obtain the tests for the youth in our associations who are living with HIV. In her own words Caitlin explains," Imagine, in the United States, $5 can buy you a fancy coffee, but here in Cameroon it can be used for a CD4 test to enroll someone in the free ARV program. $20 in the United States can take you and a friend to the movies, $20 here can send someone to the doctor for an entire year."
EFA welcomes a new Peace Corps volunteer, Gena Barnabee, to the team. Gena brings much enthusiasm for the work of EFA and many skills in community-based approaches to health including HIV/AIDS. The entire EFA team is very happy to have her on board and look forward to many great outcomes of our work - indeed Gena has hit the ground running. In her first month with EFA she orchestrated a 3 day training on Sexual and Gender Based violence, for 36 women and 13 men in Northern Cameroon. The three day training included 13 modules with gender/S-GBV themes including:
The 8th of March is International Women's Day, so the training also included modules on making change in themselves and their community and action planning for the upcoming month. Also during the month of March EFA Peer Educators will work in their communities with the goal of educating 5,000 community members on gender and S-GBV issues/prevention.
Many thanks to our generous donors who enable this profound work to continue. Every three months EFA touches more than 5,000 Cameroonians in far-flung communities through our Peer Educators and youth groups. On behalf of all of those who benefit from your kindness, THANK YOU!
October, 2010Locations: Bibemi, Adoumri, and Maroua, Extreme North Province, Cameroon
Another successful educational outreach in two remote villages. Over 4,000 people attended and participated in community presentations made by EFA youth network Peer Educators and three Peace Corps volunteers!
Highlights provided here, to see the full report click on the link below.
- The different modes of transmission
- Methods of prevention
- Benefits of voluntary screening
- Living Positively
- Preventing transmission from mother to child
- Community awareness and care for persons living with HIV/AIDS
- How to correctly use a condom
- Cholera (measures to take to avoid contracting the disease)
Team: Caitlyn Bradburn (PCV), Amada Tchake, Peer Educators, Technical Assistants
Introduction: Peace Corps volunteers and peer educators from Bibemi, Adoumri, and Maroua coordinated a trip to remote communities to conduct community education sessions. Top performing Peer Educators who had just finished their HIV/AIDS training were chosen from associations of EFA International ‘s Youth Network to visit these communities and conduct door to door outreach and community gatherings to educate people about the disease. They reached more than 4,300 Cameroonians in these villages.
Outcomes: The peer educators tirelessly answered community members’ questions, and this prompted community members to ask them to stay a few days or come back to continue the information sharing, because this was the first time anyone had ever come specifically to educate the community about this incurable disease.
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EFA Country Representative