As a result of donations raised from global LGBT activist Angeline Jackson’s recent visit to Southern California, $1,000 was sent to the Good Samaritan Consortium in Uganda.
JP Conly is a nurse from San Diego who worked with the Consortium last year and while he was there he visited a piggery run by a new organization called Youth on Rock Foundation. This is a wonderful grassroots network of young activists who are using the piggery project to help fellow LGBTQ people get out of poverty and help to prevent the spread of HIV among people under 30.
The global AIDS epidemic is disproportionately affecting young people and MSM (men who have sex with men. So the St. Paul’s Foundation, with the blessing of JP and Angeline, was very happy to support their proposal to train 20 peer educators to reach people who would not normally be reached. This is a very moving interview with one of their leaders and it shows what small amounts of funds can do to help struggling organizations who are not part of any mainstream response to the epidemic.
We are sharing JP Conly’s interview with Youth on Rock Foundation (YORF) members about their innovative community outreach program.
JP: Since I was last with you, the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act has changed the way you and other organizations can do the work of preventing HIV. Why have you chosen to work with fisher-folk on Lake Victoria?
YORF: Following the passing of the Anti- Homosexuality Act in Uganda many of our members decided to go in hiding and live a simple life. Further still, the majority of the LGBT organizations have turned their efforts into advocacy only, forgetting about health issues, so we went down to a remote landing by the lake to train our members in peer education, security and wellbeing. By focusing on these three areas, we believe they can keep good health and live a better life by looking out for each other.
JP: How did the $1,000 sent to the Consortium benefit Youth on Rock Foundation?
YORF: The money served the most disadvantaged LGBTI community in a rural area, because majority of the LGBTI organizations are centered in the cities, so with this support we were able to reach out to the members of The LGBTI community in more remote rural areas.
We interpreted the anti-homosexuality law to them so that they can understand what the law means and how to continue operating amidst the law. To our surprise, many of them had never seen a copy of the law nor have they ever had anyone to explain to them what the law means. So this gave them courage and hope because they knew they are not alone in the struggle.
Further still, this outreach program helped us reach the LGBT community on the landing site in Katosi in the Mukono District far from Kampala. We found many LGBT people who are struggling with their sexuality and accepting themselves. We provided counseling and encouraged them to talk to their peers about their daily struggles. We shared with them contacts of friendly health care providers, which they can call on 24 hours in case of any health concern. We shared with them health consumables like lubricants, condoms and some printed health messages.
JP: What health education did you provide?
YORF: We educated our members on who and what a peer educator is and does, and why we need peer educators to fight against HIV/AIDS and other STDs in our community. We found out that many LGBT persons in the rural areas don’t have information about safe sex, proper condom use and lubricants. They were unaware of the need to be looking after each other. We managed to take them through these trainings. We also shared skills and knowledge on home based care. We introduced to them basics of HIV /AIDS and STIs and STDS counselling.
JP: How does YORF feel about receiving support from the Good Samaritan Consortium?
We at YORF were pleased to receive funding from Good Samaritan consortium because many funders for LGBTI work fund advocacy more than grassroots works. This funding was a big boost to our work and gave us new energy as we look forward to continue working with Good Samaritan on other projects.
JP: I loved visiting your piggery when I was here in October. How is the piggery doing and how does that support YORF?
YORF: Since June, our pigs gave birth and by this month we have managed to give out 10 piglets to our members. We had anticipated to give them out at 3 months old, but due to challenges with feeding and the space, we gave them out at 1 month instead. We believe that by March 2015, these pigs will give birth and we distribute their piglets to other members. This will help our members to get rid of poverty.
JP: This is wonderful work and many donors and supporters will want to know what you are learning from this courageous and creative work?
YORF: This project was an eye opener for Youth on Rock Foundation and the community at large. We managed to learn new things, we created a strong network with other LGBTI persons and we managed to raise awareness on pressing issues that are affecting the community at large. With this new network, we were able to connect with LGBTI community who are outside of the central business district of the cities like Kampala. This is how most LGBTI Ugandans live. They do not live in Kampala where all the resources are currently going.
JP: What were your biggest challenges with the work?
YORF: The biggest challenge we found was information discrimination. LGBTI who live in rural areas have no access to the internet, so most of the information about LGBTI community is shared on line. So this means that our organization is tasked with visiting the rural communities and update them on what is happening around the community.
Most of the LGBTI community around the landing site (on Lake Victoria) believe in witchcraft. We met members who had STDs but believed that their co-workers had bewitched them. Sometimes they also believed they were bewitched because others had a better catch of fish than them! Our counselling and building trust with them and each other is needed to counter this misinformation and can save lives. Most of the LGBT organizations are located in city centers and they do their work on Facebook and they don’t reach rural areas. Because of these conversations, most of the LGBTI members were asking for access to HIV testing. They told us that they have taken years without testing yet they now want to know their status.
JP: Congratulations on the good work! What are your next steps and how can we partner with you?
YORF: First of all, thank you for coming to visit us and it means so much to us to have this moral and financial support. We need to do the following things in the coming months and hope your friends and donors can support us with these plans:
* Identify more LGBT persons around these lake landing sites to be trained as peer educators.
* Develop HIV prevention and health information materials into local languages to distribute to members so that they can take a lead in their health and well-being.
* Identify key focal persons who will take the lead to distribute health consumables like condoms and lubricants.
* Identify health care providers whom we can work with to take free HIV/AIDS testing and counseling.
* Develop a hotline were we can communicate in case of security emergencies.
* Document violations towards LGBTI persons by health providers in rural areas and the landing sites.
* We need to continue with raising awareness about HIV/AIDS and STDs so that people to stop thinking it is witchcraft.
To donate to this work and the work of the Foundation, please visit HERE.