We had our HIV sensitization Wednesday afternoon. Our take home message was “Know your status,” and I think it was clearly communicated through testimony, song, drama and discussion. The nearby health center has a Positive Living program for HIV positive people and we asked one of its members to come and share her testimony. It was a powerful opener to the event as she explained how she had lost her husband to the disease and is now living with HIV and raising her family. I wish I understood the language…I miss out on so many of the details as much is lost in translation. It is difficult to not be able to communicate effectively with people, especially when our work is so much about education and relationships. We have great Ugandan interns that help translate, but it’s not the same. Anyway, despite the language barrier, her testimony was powerful. She captivated the audience and delivered a message of hope. She encouraged the people to get tested so they could receive the help and support they need if diagnosed with the disease. My favorite part was she wore a baseball cap with “know your status” embroidered on it…“so perfect,” as Simon-Peter would say.
The HIV sensitization attracted the best turnout so far, although it was all women. The reason for the large turnout was due in part to a performance by a local drama group. Ugandans love to be entertained and any gathering is reason enough to dance, sing or watch a drama. We advertised during our mobilization that there would be drama and dance and as a result our turnout doubled! We still started late (African time), but the audience was captivated by the energy and message of the drama, which again focused on knowing your status and living positively with the disease. We had a group discussion after the first performance, led by our intern Simon-Peter and again I was lost in all of the Lusoga. However, based on the questions and body language it seemed like people were taking the message seriously and asking relevant questions. The second drama was pretty wild…the content being a tad offensive to the politically correct outsider in my opinion, but not to the crowd…it was almost like a Ugandan soap opera, with infidelity being the major issue. The drama’s were beneficial even if a little offensive to those outside the culture, because they stirred emotion and allowed people to talk about sensitive issues. Unfortunately, only a handful of men were in attendance and some left early (the meeting/performances were over 2 hours). Men need to be reached with the message of knowing your status, but many are stubborn and unwilling to listen. Many of the women we’ve met in the community know their status, but not their own husbands. As a result, they live in fear of getting the virus from their husband as many of the men have what Ugandan’s call side-dishes (extra-marital partners). Of course, this type of infidelity increases anyone’s chance of contracting the virus and increases transmission. It’s sad…HIV isn’t taken very seriously, mostly because it isn’t talked about, people don’t know their status, and if they do they are in denial that it will hurt them or those they care about. I hope that people begin to realize that they can’t live confidently in the dark…they must know their status in order to make the right decisions to protect them and the ones they love.
We have HIV testing at our house all day on Monday. I hope that those who heard the message on Wednesday follow through and come to get tested. There is so much fear around the virus that people would sometimes rather just not know. I’m praying that attitude changes.
As always, the kids were exceptionally cute…can’t get enough of them! Hope you take time to check out the pictures and captions…they sometimes do a better job of describing life here than my words.
Click on the picture above to see the album and captions!