A World AIDS Day Success Story in Zimbabwe
World AIDS Day is a day set aside to unite in the fight against HIV, stand in solidarity with those living with the disease, and honor those whose lives have been lost. It is a day to educate ourselves and our communities on how to prevent more deaths. World AIDS Day is commemorated on December 1st each year.
Many of our African partners commemorate World AIDS Day by holding events that bring attention to the disease and how it can be prevented. Many work with children to write songs and poems about the impact of the disease on their family, and how to prevent the spread of the disease. Other partners organize rallies or marches on World AIDS Day or the Day of the African Child (celebrated on June 16th each year).
As a steward of Firelight’s limited resources, I have to look closely at our partners’ proposed budgets. When I see commemoration of World AIDS Day or Day of the African Child, I press partners to understand how this event builds toward the achievement of their goals.
One of our Zimbabwean partners, Basilwizi Trust, is an excellent example of how commemorating these events can help an organization build bridges and multiply its impact on the community.
Basilwizi is an advocacy organization run by the people of the Zambezi valley. They empower marginalized communities to realize sustainable development by addressing the root causes of poverty. Basilwizi’s strategic focus is fourfold: education and culture; HIV and AIDS; sustainable livelihoods; and governance and democratization.
One of Basilwizi’s greatest accomplishments is getting the local minority language, Tonga, approved as a language of instruction and examination in Zimbabwe. This has helped more Tonga students succeed in school. Basilwizi’s intention is that when more members of this marginalized community are educated, they will become leaders for sustainable development in their community.
Basilwizi uses Firelight funds to achieve a number of objectives in one targeted community, Musuna (in Hwange District of Matabeleland North Province), a community so remote that they cannot receive radio or television signals. This greatly limits the information coming into and out of the community.
Child abuse has been highly prevalent in Musuna. To work against this, Basilwizi helped Musuna establish two child protection committees (CPCs): one led by adults and one led by children. Children and families dealing with abuse bring cases to the committees, who know the appropriate steps to follow. The CPCs also serve a role of educating the community about child rights and child abuse. Basilwizi used some of their Firelight funds to train the committees and to translate the Convention on the Rights of the Child into Tonga. They wrote, “Adults CPC had no reference material to refer to when fired with questions by some community members. The production of these translated copies in their mother tongue was of much assistance to the CPC members whose literacy level was still very low.”
These two CPCs are standing up for child rights and handling cases of child abuse. However, they have also run into roadblocks getting police to follow up on cases of abuse. Basilwizi worked with the community to find ways around these roadblocks.
This is where World AIDS Day comes into the story. For many years, Basilwizi has been utilizing a portion of their grant to observe World AIDS Day and the Day of the African Child at a district level. They did the same last year, using these events as an awareness campaign to highlight the high number of cases of child abuse and how child abuse leads to increased HIV infection in children. As a result, 43 officials in their district came together to revive the District Child Protection Committee (DCPC) and are making follow-ups to ward-based child protection committees, in Musuna and every other ward. This will extend support for child protection well beyond the small community of Musuna, to all children in the district.
This change is an example of Basilwizi’s “long game.” They empower marginalized people to speak for themselves, they find ways to befriend the opposition, and then set up situations to bring the two groups together. They are strategic thinkers who are incrementally, yet relentlessly, advancing the rights of children and marginalized ethnic groups.
This World AIDS Day, as we remember the millions of people who have lost their lives to HIV and AIDS, we honor the many communities who keep fighting and finding ways to make the greatest possible impact on the next generation.