Merauke is a plain land city of southern part of Papua, Indonesia.Where diversity of culture is less visible comparing to Jayapura, the provincial city.
Yet HIV has met people at Merauke and life is not stopped there. There is a district AIDS Commission as a local body to coordinate the HIV and AIDS prevention, treatment and care activities in the district. Ibu Henny is the secretary of local AIDS commission and a lawyer by profession. As she speaks to us on one of those fine afternoons sitting at the porch of her office premises about how the SALT process has transformed her thought, actions and the community she works for.
As a lawyer she has been challenged with many gender based violence cases and each time she thought “why can't these women get smarter and fight back their husbands or the perpetuators? Why are women so weak”? At the same time she worked harder as reducing women's vulnerability to HIV means increasing women's access to information, services and resources. Still she did not find any satisfaction in her work or saw any signs of change in Merauke. She often thinks that some links are missing somewhere and how she can tie those lose ends?
She was introduced to ACP in 2007. Since then she was thoughtful “should we wait for others to come and solve our problem? ... and AIDS is a disease of behavior...but how can others change it if we do not”? She started holding her community as a mother, as a government employee, as a community leader....you name it...she has been there, beside her community in many forms .......not for teaching but listening ....deep listening ......what people have to say...what strengths they have as individuals and collectively as a community to transform it to a positive force of change and that is so powerful.
She would visit her community and often meet them in groups to share stories. The stories are magnificent, informative and help build self-esteem. Every person, every community has its own story of AIDS. She speaks with her community that “we need to prepare us as much for AIDS as for life”. We appreciate our individual and collective strengths and take one step at a time…as our journey to spread the AIDS competence should begin with a first step. The AIDS competence should spread faster than the virus. She continues to reach out to people and carry forward the AIDS awareness work that she started. She feels very strongly that such efforts need to continue and nurture. Communities do not need speech, they need to look at themselves and find their strengths, they need to be encouraged, and they need to be listened. Talking about AIDS can bring everything out into the open, where the negativity disappears quickly.
Today the Merauke SALT team has more than 20 members from all walks of life and they visit, listen and interact with each other, share their hopes and concerns. They see their strengths, they have ability to learn, change and grow and they are confident to deal with HIV. They are turning the wheel of Merauke community towards a better place.
AIDS competence is a work of force, feeling and self power.