[I met this elegant, graceful lady at an ACP learning event in Dimapur last month- Dr Joyce Angami. She is a medical doctor by profession and has vast experience in the field of HIV. Here she shares her experience in the first SALT visit.]
The team went on a SALT visit to Molvom (known as the pineapple Village), which is about 45 minutes drive from Dimapur, Northeast India. It was a hot day but the surroundings were really clean and fresh. The whole community waited for the planned visit, the leaders warmly welcomed us. The initial meeting took place at the church hall, which was built by the volunteers (local builders), after they were trained by two masons from Dimapur on how to bend the iron rods to put up an RCC building (this newly acquired skill was subsequently used for the benefit the neighboring villages). After the formal introduction of the team and the community members we were divided into different groups of men and women for interaction.
I was placed with the young women group. We were told of the heroic feats performed by the community women in curbing the flow of drugs in and out of the village in the 1990s, during the peak of rampant Drug abuse in and around the neighboring villages. During this period the serenity of the community was disturbed, petty theft, conflict within the families/ community was a common feature. The women group with the support of the men folk kept 24 hours vigil over the 5 entrance to the village in rotation. The relentless efforts of the women paid off in the reduction of new entrance into drug use and abuse and serenity in the community restored. This action reflected the strength there is with the people, the identification of the problem, and collective work plan for tackling the problem using the capacity/resource within the community.
Among other concerns, they shared that there were AIDS orphans in the village looked after by the grandparents. Although there is no stigma and discrimination towards people living with HIV, they stressed the need to equip themselves with factual knowledge on HIV by establishing peer networks within the community and seeking avenues to capacitate themselves through agencies versed in HIV, to be followed by conducting seminars for the women groups first and then other groups on how to effectively address HIV issues.
The presence of many young mothers was observed. When asked the reason for this, they replied that falling in love and fearing parental disapproval led to elopement, which is a common practice. Therefore, few church weddings takes place. The young mothers expressed their desire to see more church weddings in the village. How do they plan to do achieve this? They plan to involve their husbands in getting to know their children better & spend quality time with their young children and thus building strong family relationship, involve the church in setting standard teaching on the gift of life and facts of life from the bible, and ask the community leaders to be role models in setting moral standards.
Besides the group specific learning, the team appreciated the leadership and strength of the community, the willingness to learn new skills/ in solving problems within the community from the resources within the community. The best part of the SALT visit was to find the absence of unemployment problem - all persons are employed in agriculture including pineapple fields - which has created work for all.
This initial exposure to ACP– SALT visit, is a new thinking and a way forward to HIV prevention/ care and support. Appreciation leads to realization of strengths of the community, creates ownership of the problems and through collective wisdom of the community finds a solution. It stimulates community to dream of a community free of HIV. The NGOs will come and go but HIV & the Community is here to stay. Therefore, initiating an AIDS Competent Community will complement the existing HIV programmes and Services. In conclusion, AIDS Competence will remain- the other Way to HIV Prevention/ Care.
[The story didn't end here. With support from Fr Joe of PNF, the ACP Team for Kohima was formed on 17th June 2009 consisting of Mr. Khriebu Nakhro, Chairman YARD, Ms Bazo Kire, Project Director, Kekhrie Foundation and Dr.Joyce Zinyu Angami, Projects Manager Nossal institute (India).]