When village headmen lead the response to HIV…

Village headmen in my Village Kithituni are usually elected by people. They serve as volunteers with no salary from the government or from any other source. The people who elect them give them the mandate to lead from the front. Village leaders can really mobilize and organize the people to respond. We have seen village headmen steer strong the links between homes and neighbourhood conversations often facilitated by a team to big heights.

Issues are recognised
In May 2008, Kithituni SALT team began to support one of its neighbouring communities. A facilitation team was formed in a village called Kingotole. The team gained entry to the community through work with the children in the community. Issues concerning vulnerability and risk of children were coming up. The main concern was that children were dropping from school to offer cheap casual labour in the rivers where sand was being harvested. The teenage girls were falling sex pray to the Sand harvesters including the truck drivers.

Village headman takes initiative
In one of the community conversations in a small market next to the sand harvesting rivers, the village headman invited the facilitation team to help his community reflect deeply on health and life and strengthen response to the issue of HIV in that community. He was concerned about the future of the young who were being engaged in sex work.

The team paid home visit to the children who were members of the community youth club. The home visits opened a window to connect with one of the child’s mother. She had been unwell for quite some time with no clear diagnosis and rarely visiting the dispensary. Following regular visits to her home, the woman opened up, ‘I am really concerned about my deteriorating health. I want to live and see my children get education and live life to the fullest.’ As the team was seated in the home, a group of women popped in from the neighbourhood. They had heard of the conversation through their children who had visited the woman before and were also the club members. The women stimulated by the children had come in and helped her gather fire wood including helping her harvest her maize in the field for the rains were drawing near.

This opened an avenue for self-reflection by the lady and one day as the team was travelling to Makindu for a support visit, the lady asked if she could travel with the team to get assistance to visit Makindu ART Clinic for an HIV Test. She said, “I truly want to know my status. I have the confidence!” After the visit to the Clinic she came back home and shared with the team and the family that she took an HIV test and was happy to disclose her HIV positive status.

She said, “I want to contribute to the welfare of other people’s health and healing in their families and the community at large.” She asked the team to invite her to the facilitation team for she was happy to work with it. This was noted during a SALT visit later this year, September 2009 by the AIDS competent churches to Kithituni.


Village headmen engages the community in other issues
The village headman has also engaged the community through this facilitation process in other development issues in the community. For instance, there has been a serious drought this year. Cattle have died in large numbers. So, the community embarked on serious water catchment protection. They are currently gathering sand and stones to complete a sand dam they had started constructing three months ago.

Thus, the village headman has now become part of our facilitation team and he is mentoring a team of 14 people from his village to continue doing Home visits and community conversations.

Story drawn from the ongoing Local Response Kithituni

Onesmus

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Comment by Laurence Gilliot on November 2, 2009 at 8:36am
Dear Onesmus and Rituu,

An attempt for reformulating the common principle:
If leaders, including religious and political leaders, stimulate the discussion about HIV then they will stimulate and support local responses by adapting policies and influencing traditions and values.

Maybe a bit long... anyone else has ideas to improve it? Let us continue the discussion in the forum: http://aidscompetence.ning.com/forum/topics/role-of-religious-leade... !

Laurence
Comment by Gaston on November 1, 2009 at 11:48am
What a pleasure reading this exchange on a Sunday afternoon! Thank you Onesmus for sharing another insight into the Kithituni's road towards their dream.
Comment by Jean-Louis Lamboray on October 30, 2009 at 7:32pm
During a SALT visit to Phayao an Indonesian friend asked our friend Suwat: "What is the role of religious leaders?"
Suwat answered: "I don't think much about their role, I focus on what they do!"
Comment by Rituu B. Nanda on October 30, 2009 at 5:51pm
Dear Lau,

Wanted to share this on your question to Onesmus for the principle- If we involve religious and other leaders in the discussion then traditions and policies can be revisited.

When Onesmus and I did this story, we had two options either to focus on what led to the change in the woman or the role of local leaders in response to HIV. We both agreed to do the latter as the role of the village head was substantive and we didn't have too many stories on this aspect.

I am not at ease with religious leaders and other leaders... To me it implies religious leaders have a major role to play. Can we rephrase it as leaders including religious and political leaders. And leaders can contribute to much more than policies and traditions. Just a thought.

Thanks to JL and you for raising these thought-provoking questions.

Regards,

Rituu
Comment by Rituu B. Nanda on October 29, 2009 at 7:36pm
Hi Onesmus,

A beautiful sharing! It has so many wonderful aspects to it- role of the village headman, how the children encouraged their mothers to help the ill woman, the inspiration the lady drew from the process and came forward for help and to help, and how mobilisation of the community on HIV paved way for addressing other development concerns.

Fr Joe from Nagaland, India has been working with village leaders on ACP and one of the village head offered space for an ACP office in the village. I am sure Fr Joe will be very encouraged to read your blog.

Asante Sana.

Rituu
Comment by Onesmus Mutuku on October 29, 2009 at 5:09pm
Dear JL,


During our community conversation meeting in the neighborhood often supported by the Facilitation team.Issues of concern are named, explored and deeply reflected to find meaning based on community encounter and experiences. (stories are shared and timelines of trends are named. During such moments people are looking into what they have gone.).

Examples.
'One old man stood in a community conversation in a village called Kayatta and said - I try to related this Deadly disease killing our people indiscriminately (AIDs) and fail to get if their is any similarity with a Disease we used to call 'Thavu' which Means incest. In our times it was curable through traditional rituals like Cleansing. Both of this diseases came in as i watch and they do have similar presentations. I today want to plead with fellow neighbors that this is not Incest rather a different disease. If we all come into terms with that reality then, We will stem the disease in this community. I quite agree with the actions we have named to address this issue. We have to be meeting regularly to discuss, re look into our strategies to see if they are driving us there! Our children who are in school as we discuss this may not get the seriousness of the matter we are talking here.

The village headman stood to give his proposal on how to make sure that the children benefit from what is being discussed. He said, we need to creat an avenue (Space) in our community where children can be meeting over the weekend or holy days to be facilitated on their own issues. The orphans, vulnerable children and any other child in the village need to be invited into this weekly gathering.

So the parents and guardians in the conversation meeting took the initiative to send their Children to the club. Others volunteered to offer space for the gathering and be trained as facilitators for the club. The children play adventure based learning and reflect on meaning and encounters in their own lives. Together explore strengths to address their concerns/challenges; Added values of being together, visiting each other at their own homes, doing some income generation., change they see..............

In the facilitation process, it comes to a stage where the truth or reality is now known to all (Those who were there yesterdays, Last week, 5 years..) who have been part of the conflict and are yearning to see the situation change for the better. People are in a true discussion focussed to see their dream come true and guided by the self assessment tool to systematically reflect on their action for hope and change

Thanks you.

Onesmus
Comment by Onesmus Mutuku on October 29, 2009 at 4:07pm
Laurence,
I try to figure out the wording to reflect- They are included, and participate as part of the SALT team. They are part of the learning team, they adapt their learning from Local actions and experiences to adjust policies.
For instance, We have seen School fees waiver initiated through this process for Orphans and other Vulnerable children in primary schools in our Village etc

Thanks

Onesmus
Comment by Jean-Louis Lamboray on October 29, 2009 at 1:29pm
Many thanks Onesmus for this story from the ongoing local response in Kithituni. It shows how natural the SALT process really is. Two points struck me.

First, the team gained entry through working with the children. What in your experience are good ways of entering?
Second , the community reflected deeply about the issue. How in your experience does the SALT team behave to stimulate deep reflection? While we all can feel, when we are engaged in deep reflection, whaare there any signs of deep reflection?

You are stimulating our thinking: please keep the news flow!

JL
Comment by Laurence Gilliot on October 29, 2009 at 9:15am
Dear Onesmus,

Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful experience of Kithituni. When can I visit your village, it seems amazing things are happening there :-) ? Gaston came back so enthusiastic after the meeting in Nairobi... So, congratulations for the whole team and community members for being such an inspiration for others. And also to share the inspiration here, on Ning.

I opened a discussion about the role of leaders to stimulate the acknowledgment and recognition of HIV (http://aidscompetence.ning.com/forum/topics/role-of-religious-leade...) I want your advice on the common principle: If we involve religious and other leaders in the discussion then traditions and policies can be revisited. Does this capture your experience or should we modify the principle so that it includes your experience?

Thanks

Laurence

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