After Disaster Struck Indonesia, I Volunteered to Help

When an earthquake struck Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, on 28 September 2018 at around six in the afternoon, I was in a shop around the area of Tondo, East Palu, buying snacks with two of my friends.

I heard a roar, and seconds later the ground swayed. There were people riding motorbikes falling on the streets. I rushed home to the hilly area of town.

Along the way I saw many people already on the side of the road crying. Fear enveloped my heart. I wanted to get home soon.

Once I arrived, I saw a cracked building with its contents scattered. That night there was another earthquake. I was forced to sleep on the road in front of my house.

Previously, I had ventured into the house to pick up a sleeping bag and change of clothes. Four more earthquakes came after that. I tried to call father and my brother many times but I couldn’t contact either of them.

People started to come up from the coastal area. Men were carrying gallons of mineral water and many were wounded and drenched.

We heard that there had been a massive tsunami on the coastal area. Hearing the news, I cried hysterically. I was now even more afraid, because my father lived on the coast.

I almost ventured down to find my father. However, my neighbors and friends tried to calm me down and convinced me not to go right away.

At five o’clock the next morning, I rushed to look for my father. When I arrived, I saw there was no house standing. The cars were all badly damaged by buildings.

I saw a lot of dead bodies. This made me cry and keep looking for my father until I met a teenager, who said he was on the mountain. I ran up to about five kilometers from the location of the tsunami. Then, finally, I found my father.

A month after the disaster, I was invited to join Indonesian Planned Parenthood Association (IPPA) in Central Sulawesi as a youth volunteer, to provide counseling on reproductive health as well as HIV.

I thought to myself, this activity is noble and I can help others this way. I have knowledge about HIV from my Intra-Campus Organization at university. Now, I can share this knowledge with my peers so that they can protect themselves for the sake of their future.

I told myself: I’m still able to undergo activities, I have complete organs, why don’t I use this to help people in need?

Who else will help them, if not people who care about the lives of friends affected by this disaster?

In addition to providing reproductive health and HIV counseling with other IPPA youth volunteers, I advocate for the rights of young people. After they have had counseling, we ask what obstacles the youth experience. We also listen to the complaints they have, such as lack of clean water or being harassed.

After listening to the young people, I – along with other volunteers – follow up on the issue to the concerned institute. This provides security and comfort for youth, and means that their sexual and reproductive health and rights are being fulfilled.

Written by Indri Walean, Youth Volunteer at IPPA Central Sulawesi, Indonesia. 

The Impact of HIV on Adolescent Girls & Young Women

World AIDS Day celebrates its 30th anniversary this year with the theme of ‘Know Your Status’.

Great progress has been made since the first World AIDS Day in 1988 – 3 in 4 people living with HIV today know their status.

However, the work is not yet done – especially for women. Women account for more than half of the people living with HIV worldwide. In particular, adolescent girls (10-19 years) and young women (15-24 years) are significantly affected by HIV and have high prevalence rates.

In Eastern and Southern Africa, women make up 26% of new HIV infections despite making up only 10% of the population. Statistically, young women will acquire HIV five to seven years earlier than their male counterparts.

Why are women and girls at high risk of infection?

HIV disproportionately affects young women and girls because of their unequal social, cultural and economic status in society. These challenges include gender based violence, laws and policies that undermine women, and harmful cultural and traditional practices that reinforce stigma and the dynamic of male dominance.

Here some other reasons why gender inequality leaves women vulnerable to HIV:

  1. Lack of access to healthcare services – women encounter barriers to health services on individual, interpersonal, community and societal levels.
  2. Lack of access to education – studies show that educated girls and women are more likely to make safer decisions regarding sexual and reproductive health and have lower risk of partner violence.
  3. Poverty – an existing and overarching factor that increases the impact of HIV.
  4. Gender-based violence & intimate partner violence – these types of violence prevent young women from protecting themselves from HIV.
  5. ‘Blesser/Sugar Daddy’ culture and transactional sex – sex with older men for monetary or material benefits, exposes young women and girls to low condom use, unsafe sexual practices and increased rates of STIs.
  6. Child marriage – girls who marry as children are likely to be abused by their husbands and forced into sexual practices.
  7. Biological factors – adolescent girls are susceptible to higher rates of genital inflammation, which may increase the risk of HIV infection through vaginal intercourse.

Importance of HIV testing

HIV testing in young women and girls is essential. Many receive access to treatment and care services after testing. Some important determinants of testing are:

  • Going through antenatal care
  • Being married
  • Having primary and secondary education

We need to aim for more young women and girls to being tested so that they know their status, and can access adequate care and treatment services. HIV testing is necessary for expanding on treatment and ensuring that people with HIV have healthy, productive lives.

Addressing the Impact

To address the impact of HIV on young women and girls we need to have approaches and interventions that incorporate the diverse perspectives of women and girls. This is needed on all platforms from campaigning and policy-making to program design. As the World Health Organization recommends, a woman-centred approach that includes women as participants is required, so that our needs, rights and preferences are considered.

Better strategies are needed across all health system to improve accessibility, acceptability, affordability, uptake, equitable coverage, quality, effectiveness and efficiency of services, particularly for adolescent girls worldwide.

Young People Living with HIV/AIDS: the Y+ Summit

“People who work hard to fight HIV stigma inspire me, so I also want to join the fight. Stigma and discrimination are real but I’m able to cope because of peer support, counselors and doctors. I take my medication without thinking about it and I have undergone many trainings. I feel empowered.” – Robinah Babirye (22, 3rd year student at Kyambogo University)

HIV is a boogie man we have been taught to hate and fear. This is the reason that young people who are infected with this virus can feel like they have been handed a death sentence. It raises many difficult questions for them, like who will love them and how they will find happiness post HIV infection?

There is a cyclical relationship between stigma and HIV: people who experience stigma and discrimination are marginalised and made more vulnerable to HIV, while those living with HIV are more vulnerable to stigma and discrimination.

One of the ways we engage young people is through summits at which we can hold deep discussions about what these young people are facing. The HIV epidemic is one of the biggest challenges young people face today – over 500 girls are infected every week in Uganda.

The Y+ Summit, organised by the Uganda Network of Young People Living with HIV/AIDS (UNYPA), took place from 18-20 March 2018. The Y+ Summit is an innovative, youth-centered approach that aims to put young people at the forefront of fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It provides young people living with HIV/AIDS with information on how to empower themselves economically, as well on how to live life post HIV/AIDS infection to the fullest.

Young people are a key population, which means that the social, political and economic trends of communities are directly attached to them. If young people are healthy, informed and empowered, their communities stand to benefit and develop. Poor health makes young people, and therefore wider society, less productive. Uganda is also a particularly young nation, with young people making up more than 70% of the total population.

Last month’s Y+ Summit was all-inclusive, keeping over 200 participants engaged over three days. From bold and fearless panel talks to extensive focus group discussions, positive living was made understandable to all. Many topics were discussed, including taking medication consistently, new trends in treatment, curbing new infections and discordance. There were even explanations of HIV and the law in Uganda, which the reigning Miss Y+ Gloria Nawanyaga explained in terms of the 90-90-90 strategy:

“Any intentional infection of another with HIV is criminal and punishable by law. This is in no way meant to marginalise anyone living with HIV, but it is a way for us to live positively and a guide for deterring any new infections,” she said.

Participants at the Y+ Summit. Photo credit: Uganda Network of Young People Living with HIV

The Summit attracted speakers from religious, cultural, legal and entertainment sectors, who each talked about positive living in their spheres. For us, the most memorable was Canon Gideon Mugisha, a clergy who has lived positively for 17 years. He was keen to remind the attendees of the coexistence between religion and medication: “We all know that God helps those that help themselves. If you find that you are positive, you need to pray for God’s protection but you also need to take your medication. Personally, I pray to God like there is no medicine, and I take my medication like there is no God.” 

Another panelist was Wilson Bugembe, a musician and pastor who shared his story of living with HIV positive siblings even when he himself was negative. Other speakers included Dr Karusa Kiragu, the UNAIDS Uganda Country Director and Hon Florence Nakiwala Kiyingi, the Ugandan Minister for Youth and Children’s Affairs.

Rio Babirye, a Communications Officer with UNYPA, told us that she was happy that the summit had promised more creativity to redefine the lives of those living positively in Uganda:

“This year’s turn up was greater than last year’s and it was a more productive summit. It is our dream to end stigma and discrimination against HIV, and we shall keep refreshing our young minds to come up with ideas to do so,” she said.

Nyumbani: A Safe and Caring Home for Hope

Imagine yourself as a little kid. Imagine yourself just existing and playing in a limitless world without worries about global issues, family problems or work obligations. Then finally imagine yourself finding out that you are HIV-positive. All of a sudden your world comes crashing down – nobody wants you anymore. Your parents become scared of being near you and they don’t have the ability to help you with medications. Imagine being abandoned by the ones that are supposed to always be there for you.

This is a reality a lot of kids in Sub-Saharan Africa still face today. Once they are diagnosed their families may not have the ability or willingness to care for them and they are left alone and abandoned. Many of the kids also have parents who have died from AIDS.  This is where Nyumbani Children’s Home comes into the picture.

Nyumbani in Kenya takes care of HIV/AIDS-affected kids, ranging from newborns to young adults in their early twenties. They provide a safe home, treatment and education for these kids to make sure that they aren’t left to die because of the disease. The Nyumbani Village provides a loving place to call home for 1,000 children in Kenya.

In order to continue with this amazing work they are dependent on sponsors and engagement. One of their major partners is Johnson & Johnson, a global health company with the determination to make lasting change.

I took the opportunity to ask Achieng Masiga, who is Program Manager for Sub-Saharan Africa, Global Community Impact, at Johnson & Johnson about their work with Nyumbani. She is based in Nairobi, Kenya and manages programs with partners working in the areas of maternal, newborn, and child health, girls’ education and empowerment, as well as orphans and vulnerable children.

What do you think of when you hear the word Nyumbani?

Masiga: Nyumbani means home and that is precisely what it is to the children who have lived there and continue to do so.

Why is a place like Nyumbani necessary today?

Masiga: The world still has numerous children who are abandoned and vulnerable and Nyumbani is necessary, as are many other children’s homes. They provide children with the stability of a home environment; food, shelter, clothing, family, education. These are things that many children in stable homes take for granted.

Why did Johnson & Johnson choose to support Nyumbani?

Masiga: Nyumbani is Kenya’s largest support system for HIV-positive children and their families. I believe that Nyumbani’s unique approach of caring for children who are HIV+ is what drew J&J to them.

How does Johnson & Johnson work to help the people and co-workers at Nyumbani?

Masiga: Currently J&J provides support to Nyumbani Village and Lea Toto, its outreach program providing services to HIV-positive children and their families through 8 community centers surrounding Nairobi. At Nyumbani Village in Kitui (131km/82miles from Nairobi), 1,000 children orphaned by HIV/AIDS have a home, cared for by another generation left behind by the epidemic – grandmothers. Together they are building a model bio-friendly and self-sustaining community, setting a goal to be self-reliant by 2018. Johnson & Johnson funding for a rainwater harvesting project with Princeton in Africa fellows resulted in the building of 72 water tanks, making clean water available to the entire village.

I really do think that it is important that companies like Johnson & Johnson support these kinds of NGO’s since they are dependent on others’ help. Global companies have the ability to really make a change and get grassroots organizations like Nyumbani out on a global map. Together with individuals, groups and countries they can help even more and be an even bigger part of the change-making system.

So imagine yourself being a kid with a terminal disease not having anyone to take care of you. Imagine yourself then being found by the Nyumbani Village, a caring, loving and helpful home to make you have a safe and valuable future. When I imagine this, I imagine hope and ultimately a new found freedom.

You can help support the children of Nyumbani Village by making a donation at CaringCrowd, a crowdfunding platform by Johnson & Johnson dedicated to improving global public health.

Girls’ Globe is sponsored by Johnson & Johnson to provide coverage during the Global Citizen Festival and to share the stories of the Young Leaders who are participating in the activities in New York. 

Featured image from Nyumbani Village. Photo Credit: Cordelia Persen.

The Role of Youth: Reflections from #AIDS2016

“We need to give young people a seat at the table” was a phrase I heard frequently at the 2016 International AIDS Conference  in Durban last month. It’s a frequently heard phrase at other conferences too, and in meetings or discussions which include youth participation.

The strange thing is, the more often I hear it, or read it in an article or see it in a Tweet, the less I feel sure of what the person using it is actually talking about.

What does it really mean, to give young people a seat at the table? And are we doing it well? Are increasing numbers of young people well-positioned to engage and participate in issues that affect their lives or the lives of their peers?

During #AIDS2016 I spoke with many young people – attending the conference in a whole range of capacities and from all over the world – about youth participation in the fight against HIV/AIDS. None of them mentioned seats at tables. What they talked about were concrete examples of how, when and why young people could and should contribute to the global effort to fight AIDS. What they gave were clear arguments about why young people are invaluable components to the global solution.

“I’m here to educate myself more. I now know how to talk to people about HIV” – Thabang Mosoeu, 21

“I’m going back to my community to tell young people who weren’t here about what I’ve learned to spread the information” – Thembelihle Ntombela, 19

“If you are creating any policy that affects young people, young people have to be involved in the creation of that policy” – Fale Lesa, 25

“We need to talke a less moralistic and more feministic approach in addressing issues of HIV with young women!” – Nomtika Mjwana, 25

 

One message that rang loud and clear from #AIDS2016 was that we all must work to shift perceptions of young people’s capabilities. Rather than being merely the beneficiaries of services decided upon by those with expert knowledge, young people are capable of being trustworthy partners in shaping how society thinks about and responds to HIV/AIDS. Unfortunately, capability doesn’t equate to opportunity, and so it’s no use waiting around in expectation of some momentous shift.

Access to physical spaces where discussions are held and decisions are made – “a seat at the table”– is, of course, one very important piece in the jigsaw puzzle of effective youth participation. But it’s one of many. We have perhaps become so used to saying or hearing this phrase that it rolls off the tongue with a little too much ease and a little too little consideration of the other pieces.

I imagine there are few people who would enjoy sitting around a table with no idea what the others at the table are talking about. Few people would feel comfortable joining a table already filled with strangers who all seem to know one another. Few people enjoy the sense of doubt that comes with wondering if perhaps you’ve taken a wrong turning and walked in to the wrong room.

To provide young people with access and space is important and the worth of doing so shouldn’t be underestimated. But to all those who have ever pulled out a chair to a young person only to tick the box on their checklist that says ‘youth’, I’m sorry to tell you that your work is far from finished. Individuals without tools that equip them to join conversations and contribute to decisions, regardless of their age, might as well not be in that room.

Your checklist needs to look a little more like this:

  • Qualify young people to contribute to conversations taking place at your table.
  • Offer to share your knowledge, then bolster them with the confidence to apply it.
  • Answer their questions and deepen their understanding.

Ticked all those boxes? Then by all means, pull up a chair.

The Most Amazing Week

Although Zambia developed the Anti-Gender Based Violence Act in 2011, Gender Based Violence (GBV) still persists at high rates today in Zambia, deeply entrenched in Zambian culture and norms. Out of the Southern African countries, Zambia ranks unfortunately high for GBV prevalence with 72% of women experiencing GBV in a lifetime and high associations between GBV and HIV positive status.

As a result, young girls living in Zambia face a myriad of challenges. Pressures from emerging womanhood, boys, and social media can force girls to experiment with their bodies and sexuality, though they may lack education and resources on safe and safer sex. Additionally, girls that come from poorer areas or families might not be able to negotiate or decline early childhood marriage. All of the unique pressures that girls face in their adolescence puts them at additional risk for HIV.

To address this, the Zambia Centre for Communication Programmes (ZCCP), in partnership with Peace Corps, is running Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) camps across Zambia to educate and empower female youth by teaching them about GBV and HIV/AIDS. I had the great privilege of attending the GLOW camp on the Copperbelt last week and enjoyed every second of it.

The girls were from grades 8-11 and came from schools across the Copperbelt along with teacher mentors from their schools. They were mature, bright students who entered the camp ready to build relationships, learn, and contribute. TMAW_2

Throughout the week, we played energizing activities, danced, had lessons on reproductive organs, learned about the different types of GBV, sewed chitenge pads (reusable menstruation pads made out of chitenge fabric and towel inserts), and more. I myself learned more than ever before about sexual reproductive health!

The camp quickly became a circle of sisterhood between the participants, mentors, and coordinators where each woman felt empowered and safe to share her story. I heard powerful stories of girls seeking education, overcoming gender norms in the household to find employment, and many shared their sentiments of wanting to spread empowerment and encouragement to Zambian girls everywhere. TMAW_3

Alas, the week was too short, and the camp came to an end. But the lessons we learned and the stories we shared will continue on. Girls from each school, along with their teacher mentors, will now create GLOW clubs in their schools for other girls and will teach the same sessions we had on GBV and HIV/AIDS. Furthermore, ZCCP will host these camps in provinces across Zambia – empowering girls everywhere.

Photo Credit: Reena Gupta