Kanté is Lamba for: “come and bring your spear.” During
During my first few months at post I tried to jump start the project as quickly as I could. I worked with the Assistant Medical and a support group for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). A these meetings the group learned about the services provided by AED Kara and that AED was interested in opening an AED satellite in Kanté. The majority of the members in the group had never heard of AED and had no idea what types of services were available to them at a treatment center like AED. Though the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate is extremely high in Kanté, relatively few people attend monthly support group meetings.
AED Kara staff encouraged me to start community AED meetings where infected and non-infected people interested in opening the association could exchange ideas and form an executive board. From the beginning of my service I had been working exclusively with infected people since they are the main beneficiaries of any treatment center and would be in charge of managing the association. I went to the PLWHA support group meetings with the idea of starting separate meetings for the association where anyone interested could attend. The reaction from the group was negative. The infected people did not want to attend open community meetings because they feared community members would discover and divulge their status. Some of the members wanted me to go ahead with the meetings but listed various reasons why they would be unable to attend. Without the help of non-infected people in the community, the association could never succeed.
“If you broadcast it they will come”
I have always wanted to make an allusion to Field of Dreams, and I just did. Without assurances that the infected members of the group would participate, I went ahead trying to garner support from the main powerhouses in Kanté: the Mayor, the Prefet, and the Chief. Having never done a sensibilization, I thought it would be an appropriate step in an effort to inform the community about AED. AED Kara agreed to come to the sensibilization, present their services and bring members to give testimonials about their struggles with HIV/AIDS. These testimonies are invaluable. Infected people willing to share their status with other Togolese people are extremely brave, and make use of one of the most important tools in the fight against stigma and discrimination. In a community that discriminates against people living with HIV/AIDS finding interested people to help open the center is a major hurdle. As more and more people tested positive each day, the medical team grew frustrated with the lack of commitment from the community to fight this epidemic. The numbers of people attending monthly support group meetings were dropping and the main reason was fear of being “found out” by other community members. At the proposed sensibilization people would learn about the realities of HIV/AIDS in the prefecture and the services that are being offered by AED in other neighboring prefectures.
Good Morning, Kanté!
Radio Kéran is located in a typical Togolese compound. Instead of a mango tree in the center of the compound, there is a 150 foot tall (completely off the cuff guess) radio antenna. Metal cables extend down to the cement ground holding the antenna in place. To enter the compound, you have to navigate through the cables and piles of corn. Every night at everyone rich enough to own a radio in the
Before the sensibilization, I decided I had to at least advertise the event even if I was going to pay out of pocket. I invited an AED Kara staff member to come and broadcast a brief radio show about AED. The director and owner of the radio station had recently injured his leg so was immobile on his front terrace. That meant that during price negotiations he had to listen to everything I had to say and could not walk away. After a round of Castels (on me), and a riveting discussion about how Native Americans got to be called Indians, we got down to business. Negotiating a price for the radio time was easy after I bought him the drink. He told me I could do as much radio work as I wanted gratis as long as the purpose was meant to benefit the prefecture (but a few subtle shout outs could be squeezed in too). Radio stations around
The first show with the AED Kara employee was 30 minutes long and touched on every major issue I have been working on for the past year. I only spoke for about ten minutes, but it felt great to vent into a microphone. I had no idea if anyone was: 1. listening, or 2. understanding my French. This is why it was important to bring the AED employee because I left knowing everything I wanted to be said had either been said by me or by the AED staff member.
When I left the radio station it was . Everyone in my compound was outside waiting to greet me with huge smiles and applause. They had heard the show. The next morning while walking around, people I had never seen before approached me about the radio show asking how they could help start AED. Everyone who had listened to the show had at least been exposed to AED and my main project in the community. Also after a weeks worth of communiqués, the community was informed about the date, location, and purpose of the sensibilization.
In terms of turnout, the sensibilization was a success. The crowd was dense with students. The testimonials were the highlight. The audience could not believe that a woman who looked completely healthy could possibly be HIV positive. To this day, people come up to me and ask me if the people who gave testimonies were actually HIV positive or were just actors and actresses from Lomé. Unfortunately the presentation of AED services fell on deaf ears because of the length of the sensibilization. The event started late due to rain, challenging people’s capacity to retain information after two hours of presentations.
The real success has come from the regular radio shows that I have done in collaboration with community members since the sensibilization. The longest show lasted for one hour and fifteen minutes with the Assistant Medical. During these shows we discuss rights and laws for people living with HIV/AIDS, nutrition for people living with HIV/AIDS, where to go to get free testing, and who to talk to if you are concerned about HIV/AIDS. Because everyone listens to the radio it is not shameful for everyone in the compound to sit and absorb the information being broadcast. The radio is a wonderful medium for infected people to get information when they may be too afraid to travel to the hospital. Most infected people in Kanté have no idea that if they are harassed, by law, they are able to go to the judge and have the harasser jailed. For many people in the prefecture, they have no idea that they can receive an HIV test for free.
Since starting regular radio programs hospital visits have increased as have the numbers of people receiving voluntary testing. The amount of people attending the support group has spiked. The numbers of people wishing to have their CD4 count analyzed has also increased dramatically. The first general AED meeting held after the sensibilization had just three participants. A week later, after having done two radio programs, the number of participants jumped to 48. Among the 48 there are many familiar faces from the support group. The support group has also had the highest turnout since I first arrived in Kanté. The amount of progress for AED Kanté has warped ahead. In September of this year I was pushing for a summer 2008 opening, and now we are on track to open in January or February 2008 as planned. There is a functioning executive board and the majority of the work is beginning to pass from the shoulders of the Assistant Medical and me, to the community members who now know what AED is, wish to bring it to Kanté. I also credit the radio shows for the very high turnout at the mass sensibilization. TVT even made an unannounced appearance without having any invitation and without any reimbursement. They ran a 5 minute segment about AED Kanté on the national news. Thanks Radio Kéran!
On a recent trip to the
By using the radio to reach underserved populations, I hope talking about HIV/AIDS becomes so common for people that they no longer fear others that are infected, no longer discriminate against infected people, and no longer feel ashamed if they themselves are HIV positive. I would love to employ the strong tradition of resistance in the area and focus it on the fight against HIV/AIDS (a.k.a. the only spears I want to see from people in Kanté, are spears being used to fight HIV/AIDS).
 First stop, Mayor of the city for authorization to have the sensibilization in Kanté. His secretary met me with open arms and an open wallet (for me to fill). He also asked for every location of known infected people and homosexuals. What was he going to do with this information? I have no idea.
Now some pictures:
I spent New Years in Kante this year and have some pictures to prove it. But first some photos of general interest.
Family next to their Tata in Warengo, a village near Nadoba
New years celebration 2008... We started the morning out (7am) with a shot of sodabe (rubbing alcohol) and then proceeded to eat that giant white mountain found in the bottom right of the photo. When we finished that giant mountain of delicious, they sent over two more. What kind of sauce did we have with the fufu?
Bon Appetit - Donkey sauce
Who is that handsome devil?
That is Ruth...She participates in Club Espoir each month at AED.
Happy New Year!