What we doJacob Lief, Ubuntu Education Fund, on what Living Positively is all about
The Living Positively project combines a number of interventions to reach boys and men in the community. Let me show you some of them:
Early on in the project we developed a mobile testing unit and built an on-site testing facility at our Ubuntu Centre. We recognised that all over the world, men are less likely to seek medical care than women. Therefore, we knew it would be imperative to make it as easy and convenient as possible for men in our communities to find out their HIV status. Our mobile testing unit and onsite testing facility were the first examples of testing being taken out of the clinic in the region, and they enabled us to integrate HIV testing into other programming like events and educational outreach.
After a person is tested for HIV, we provide individualised counseling and ongoing follow-up – regardless of the test’s outcome. When someone decides to get tested, especially a man in this community, it’s a huge step that’s indicative of that person being willing to face reality and address it head on. It’s a window of opportunity to affect broader behaviour change, regardless of whether the test ultimately shows that the person has HIV or not.
For boys and men who are living with HIV, we have a number of programmes to help them get and stay on treatment. We provide ongoing medical services, like monitoring viral loads and CD4 cell counts, for example. We also have community initiatives in place, like our urban organic farms, which tackle some of the local issues that present barriers to adherence. Since drugs for HIV/AIDS shouldn’t be taken on an empty stomach, the fact that most people in Port Elizabeth don’t have enough food is an enormous obstacle to staying on treatment. These farms help us provide proper meals –2,246 meals per day – to people in our communities. Not all the food comes from the farms, but they’ve made a tremendous difference.
To engage men in addressing gender inequality and gender-based violence, we hold men’s education events where young men have facilitated discussions about these issues and their own personal experiences. The events provide an outlet where men can talk honestly with each other and where we can work with them to take control of their lives in a positive way. Discussions and activities surrounding gender issues are combined with social activities, like playing foosball or listening to a local band, to ensure that the events are both appealing and productive. Visit our website to find out more about our men’s education events.
We also have a number of interventions designed specifically to reach young boys. For example, 10-12 year old boys in our after-school programme participate in activities that are traditionally viewed as ‘girl’s activities.’ These boys are baking, doing yoga, making ceramics – and they are finding that these things are a lot of fun. The idea is to break down notions around ‘male roles’ and ‘female roles’ and create room for common ground, common experiences and mutual respect.
In addition, we’ve launched a support group for boys in the context of a soccer team. The boys play soccer twice a week, and afterward they gather as a team to discuss gender norms, HIV and AIDS and any challenges they might be facing in their daily lives.
One of the more recent components of the Living Positively project is our Men as Partners (MAP) programme, an initiative designed to support boys heading off to university. Last year 34 of our university scholarship holders were 18-year-old boys who, through Living Positively, had been tested for HIV/AIDS, gotten onto proper medical treatment and participated in activities and learning exercises about gender issues. These boys are poised to be the next generation of male leaders in our community. The idea behind MAP is to give them the framework and ongoing support to achieve this, and ultimately, to become leaders who will influence positive change.