Participants in HIV awareness training from one South Sudanese community. Photo: Sarah Pickwick/Tearfund
6 December 2011
The spread of HIV in isolated parts of South Sudan is being tackled by a church-run project which is also challenging prejudice.
Jombu is a rural farming community, where it is estimated that approximately 75 per cent of the population could be living with HIV.
The nearest clinic for HIV testing is eight miles away and the health clinic in the village is inadequately stocked.
Before Tearfund partner, the Diocese of Yei, started working in Jombu, many people were ignorant about how HIV is contracted, for example some believing it came from animals.
This exacerbated fears about HIV resulting in discrimination against those living with the condition, as people didn’t want to associate with them.
The Diocese of Yei began a year-long project in Jombu called Channels of Hope. The project draws on Bible studies to affirm the value of all human life and Jombu is one of six communities where the church is doing this.
Approximately 40 people were trained for four days about HIV awareness including information on its transmission, signs and symptoms.
From this training, they formed a committee and selected five peer educators to go into the community to focus purely on raising awareness.
They expressed how they now wanted to encourage those with HIV, stand by their side and counsel them, using a variety of forums such as churches and market places.
The result is that attitudes have changed in the community, which is now keen for this knowledge to be spread to all nearby villages too.
One example of how the project has made a difference comes from the experience of Asio, a girl living with HIV.
Before the training, the community frequently shouted at her and it was evident she was growing thinner. After the training, the shouting has reduced and she has put on weight. She is also involved in the activities of the church.
Joseph and Thomas are two men who have had their attitudes towards HIV changed due to the project.
Joseph admits that previously he didn’t know the signs and symptoms of HIV but now he does and he would advise anyone coughing for a long time to go and be tested.
Thomas used to think that soldiers and traders were the only ones who carried the virus but not anymore.
He now recognises the need to be salt and light in the community: ‘We will try our best but ultimately it is God’s power that will change attitudes,’ he says.