BRIDGE II's Process for Engaging People Living with HIV
Partnership with National Association for People Living With HIV and AIDS Support Groups
The National Association for People Living with HIV and AIDS (NAPHAM) works with support groups for People Living with HIV and AIDS (PLHIV) in communities throughout Malawi. Some of these support groups are based in BRIDGE II project implementation communities. BRIDGE II therefore partnered with NAPHAM to strengthen the groups’ ability to address HIV- and AIDS-related challenges that affect the lives of PLHIV. Support group membership ranges from 25 to over 100 people. When implementing BRIDGE II activities, members were sub-divided into smaller groups of not more than 25 people to give room for in-depth discussions on key issues. This encouraged participation of all members who consequently become very engaged and actively applied their newly acquired skills to improve their lives. BRIDGE II supported NAPHAM through the training of Facilitators who then implemented the project’s Transformative Tools with group members and also formed listening groups that gathered to listen to and discuss the radio program Chenicheni Nchiti?
Support for Group Facilitator Training
As a first step, NAPHAM district level coordinators and BRIDGE II agreed on the criteria for selecting group Facilitators. This included: being hard working, being a dedicated support group member, ability to read and write, and having positive character traits as confirmed by others. The identified Facilitators then attended a 5 day training on how to: facilitate participatory sessions using BRIDGE II tools, address fears commonly held by many PLHIV, and better understand the gender dimensions underlying many HIV- and AIDS-related issues. One female and one male were paired to facilitate all small group activities together to ensure the perspectives of both men and women were taken into account.
Facilitators were trained to implement the Planting Our Tree of Hope toolkit, Journey of Hope toolkit and Tasankha Discussion Guide with their support groups. The Planting Our Tree of Hope toolkit takes participants through a series of exercises on living positively with HIV; The Journey of Hope takes members through a series of fun activities that help them understand their own level of risk and how to reduce that risk, as well as develop a plan for their future; the Tasankha Discussion Guide provides interactive exercises to explore key HIV related issues, and to help participants make choices that enable them to prevent HIV infection and protect their health. Facilitators alternated which toolkit they used in their discussions each week.
The support groups also listened to Chenicheni Nchiti? together every week, and Facilitators led members through a discussion around the key issues raised during the show and the development of a collective action plan to address those issues.
Reducing Stigma and Making Connections in Communities
After facilitating small group discussions with fellow HIV positive individuals for some time, Facilitators scaled up interventions and started conducting outreach activities in their communities with people who are not members of their support groups using the Journey of Hope Toolkit. This helped in normalizing discussions around HIV and reduced stigma toward PLHIVs in their communities. The Facilitators also engaged in conversations with members of other nearby NAPHAM support groups where BRIDGE II had not yet introduced its activities, thereby expanding the social support network of PLHIV. During these conversations, the Facilitators used the Planting Our Tree of Hope toolkit to guide group discussions. After conducting these outreach activities and discussion sessions, the Facilitators reported back to BRIDGE II how many people were reached.
Additionally, the support group leaders (including the support group chair, secretary, and others) met every month at NAPHAM district offices to discuss progress being made with their support groups and exchange ideas and best practices.
BRIDGE II supported this work by providing funding for facilitator meetings and purchasing bicycles to aid in their transport within their communities.