Planning for a better future instead of planning for an imminent death

As we approached the last stop on our field tour in Kamuli, it was nearly 3:00, we hadn’t had lunch yet, and we still had several things we needed to discuss with the staff of AIDS Education Group for the Youth (AEGY), an HIV/AIDS organization that serves people living with HIV/AIDS in Kamuli, one of the poorest districts in Uganda.  We had left Kampala early and were tired, but we were instantly re-energized with the lively welcome we received from this group.

The lively welcome we were given - the lady in the middle in yellow and green was the song leader and is waving a pack of condoms

The lively welcome we were given – the lady in the middle in yellow and green was the song leader and is waving a pack of condoms

                As soon as we entered the church, the group erupted into song and dance, accompanied by large African drums.   The songs were all about HIV/AIDS, and the song leader was even dancing around while waving a package of condoms to emphasize the importance of prevention!  After the songs were over, several group members shared how their lives have been changed and they have been given new hope through the activities of AEGY.

More singing and dancing with another group

More singing and dancing with another group

Earlier in the day, we had visited three other support groups where we received a similar welcome and heard similar testimonies.  AEGY has facilitated the formation of 14 support groups for people living with HIV/AIDS in their district.  Through the support groups, the HIV positive members are given encouragement and hope, as well as practical support to improve their lives.  Each group has a savings and loan scheme, which allows member to borrow money and repay with a very small interest rate.

The AEGY staff shared that when

....and more with yet another group!

….and more with yet another group!

the groups first started, people would borrow money when they had problems – for example, when they fell sick and needed to go to a doctor.  But as the groups continued and people regained hope for their future, the focus shifted as more people began to borrow money to invest in their future – to buy livestock, seeds, and to improve their homes and hygiene, for example.  Several of the groups are even talking about beginning business ventures together.  The AEGY staff note this shift as one of their greatest achievements. As one staff explained, when the clients first realize they are HIV positive, many of them are thinking about suicide or planning for an imminent death.  As they engage in AEGY activities, they realize they can have hope for their future and they start investing in development and  planning for a better future instead of planning for their death.

                AEGY also provides its clients with livestock and seeds to help empower them to earn an income.  One family that we visited had been given two pigs from AEGY a few years ago.  In the past two years, they have sold several of the piglets and bought a cow with the profits.  They have even been able to support one of their children to begin University with the profits they have made from selling the piglets.
Some piglets from the mother pig supplied by AEGY

Some piglets from the mother pig supplied by AEGY

I was grateful to finally have the opportunity to visit this project in Kamuli, since HIV/AIDS is an area that I have a lot of interest in.  It was encouraging to see the work that has been going on and to hear the testimonies, and also to meet the staff who are very committed to the project.

AEGY also does a lot of HIV/AIDS education in local schools.  Here a student is reading a scenario about an orphan who lost his parents to AIDS and is struggling to provide some money for himself and his elderly grandmother.  The students have an opportunity to discuss and talk about different scenarios.

AEGY also does a lot of HIV/AIDS education in local schools. Here a student is reading a scenario about an orphan who lost his parents to AIDS and is struggling to provide some money for himself and his elderly grandmother. The students have an opportunity to discuss and talk about different scenarios.

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