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