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.
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
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.
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.