Community Resilience Toward Fighting Poverty, HIV and AIDS

A man smiles toward the camera while standing outdoorsThis blog story is from Firelight Advisory Council member and grantee-partner, Mulugeta Gebru. Mulugeta is the Executive Director of Jerusalem Children and Community Development Organization (JECCDO), one of Ethiopia’s oldest and largest organizations dedicated to promoting community-based childcare programs and to building community capacity to support orphans and vulnerable children. This story is about Enibra Cluster Level Association of Self Help Groups, a partner organization of JECCDO. Read more about Mulugeta on our website. Community Resilience Toward Fighting Poverty, HIV and AIDS

Enibra Cluster Level Association of Self Help Groups is a community-based organization in Awassa Town, one of the most HIV and AIDS affected cities in Ethiopia. Enibra CLA, founded in 2008, works to fight stigma and discrimination against women affected and infected by HIV and AIDS, and to strengthen women’s capacity to generate income, own assets, and make decisions in their community.

The following two stories come from a mother and a child supported by Enibra CLA. They demonstrate the important role of the community in fighting the effects of HIV and AIDS.

Retrieving Hope and Purpose in Life

Amino Mohammed, 43, lost hope when she mysteriously lost her husband due to AIDS. She and her husband did not openly discuss HIV and AIDS when her companion’s health was deteriorating. Amino was seriously ill; she became suspicious about her status when people started pointing at her and secretly went to a clinic.  When she learned that she was HIV positive, she was shocked and fainted. She kept herself in her home fearing the community’s reaction. However, she had to feed her only son who had dropped out of school due to the stigma and discrimination.

While identifying bed-ridden patients due to AIDS, leaders of Enibra CLA learned Amino was one of the many people chronically ill. They reached out to help.

Consequently, Amino took part in a series of community discussions, which were held through coffee ceremonies, and other means. She began to see that she could live with the virus. They supported her son with education supplies, school uniforms, clothing, and sanitation materials. Amino also accessed startup capital to establish an IGA and earn income for the family.

When Amino speaks about the stigma and discrimination she faced, she says, “the facial expression of the people including my neighbors was the severest pain I experienced, more than the syndrome of illnesses. I was scared, alienated, and nearly at the verge of madness. Enibra CLA leaders repeatedly visited and urged me to join coffee ceremony sessions. There, I came across other HIV positive people who were also improving their life through IGAs. Now I am earning money for my family. My son goes to school; he’s growing up, and I now witness to people that stigma and discrimination are killers even more than the AIDS illness. Thanks to God, now the community accepts my status well and supports me emotionally. We are now happy at home.” 

Coping with Challenges

Tekalign Memhiru, 13, was frustrated when his father ran away from home due to a dispute with his wife. The dispute started when they recognized that they have lived with the HIV virus and developed illness. Soon, his mother died of AIDS and Tekalign shouldered the responsibility of taking care of the household. Of all his encounters, the fact that “people were pointing at him and he could not tolerate the lip-services were worst.” He dropped out of school and fled to the streets. But later, the community committee of the Enibra CLA learned about him and brought him into their programs. They also searched for his father and contacted him in an effort to reconnect them and resolve their differences.

Discussing these changes in his life, Tekalign said, “I was supported to engage in small businesses like bike maintenance and renting bikes. I got that chance at a time I felt hopeless and was living on the streets. I am now supporting myself. I cover my education expenses from the income I earn from my business. I live together with my father. Thank you for the opportunity.”

 The efforts of Enibra CLA and many other community-based organizations result in collective responsibility of the local government and other stakeholders, which in turn transcend to a reduction in stigma and discrimination due to HIV and AIDS, enhancement of children’s access to education, health care, counseling and life skills, and an increase in engagement of the community for livelihoods improvement.

Last year, Enibra CLA supported 72 vulnerable children with education (including preschool education and day care), health care, clothing, life skills, shelter and care, counseling, and reintegrated vulnerable children with their relatives and parents. It also supported 70 caregivers with business skills development trainings and startup capital to engage in income generation activities (IGAs). Most importantly, it carried out community awareness raising sessions on HIV and AIDS, protection of children and women from abuses (through coffee ceremonies, home visits, community meetings) and lobbied the concerned government offices for access to equitable health, education, credit, and other services to women and children.