On 6 June 2017, Ace Africa Tanzania had the honor to receive eight (8) visitors from UK-based project donors Comic Relief and TK Maxx. The purpose of the visit was for the visitors to see first-hand progress on the Rural Arusha project they support – “Strengthening capacity and access to quality health services for people affected by HIV/AIDS.” Now in its second year, the project is making great strides to achieve its intended outcomes, which include: (1) increasing knowledge of and access to HIV-related and general health services for rural community members, (2) improving the quality of health care services and (3) reducing HIV-related stigma in the community.
The day’s journey began with a visit to Oltrumet District Hospital, where the visitors met with the District Aids Control Coordinator and learned more about the HIV-related services offered by the hospital and how the project is helping to improve access to and the quality of such services. The group also met an Ace-trained community health mentor (“CHM”) who had come to the hospital with two (2) of her clients living with HIV/AIDS (“PLWAs”) to assist them in accessing services such as obtaining their anti-retroviral medications (“ARTs”) and checking their CD4 levels. The CHMs provide a crucial link between health providers and PLWAs, ensuring access to services and adherence to treatments.
From there, the group next met with an Ace community support group trained in milling. They observed the group processing nutritious flour that it sells in the community, but also provides free to its most vulnerable community members such as PLWAs and orphans. The nutritious flour is part of a regimen that enables PLWAs to effectively manage their health.
After this, the group visited more rural health facilities where Ace has trained nurses in the provision of ARTs to facilitate easier access for PLWAs living in the most remote, rural areas. The group next visited several PLWA households where they saw the challenging circumstances that many live under – e.g. simple Maasai huts with outdoor pit toilets, no water, no power and extremely poor roads connecting them to more populated areas. One of the PLWAs visited in Olkokola Ward told the group, “I am so grateful to have people visiting me despite my HIV status. To have friends who could care about my health gives me hope that I am not alone.”
The project visit continued with visits to primary schools where Ace has child-to-child health clubs and has instituted a curriculum focusing on life skills and sexual health education. After a warm welcome from the children, the group saw a life skills training session in action and also observed students conduct a drama performance they created in the club focusing on topics such as child marriage and FGM. The school children also demonstrated their embroidery work, performed Maasai songs and dances and discussed with the visitors the challenges facing children in Africa and Europe.
The day ended with a visit to an Ace Health Education Day in the Ngaramtoni town center. The purpose of Health Education Days is to raise community awareness on HIV prevention and stigma reduction and to encourage people to get tested for HIV at the event. A large crowd gathered to watch an Ace-trained drama group perform skits that reiterated these messages. The event culminated with powerful and inspirational testimonials from two (2) HIV+ community members, Evaline & Clara. Evaline, who has been living with HIV for more than a decade, has recently found the courage to speak to her community about her status at events like the Health Education Days, delivering a message of hope to all those impacted by HIV. She energetically told the crowd that living with HIV does not make her any different from others. Someone with HIV can be healthy, happy, have children and a family, have a job and lead a normal life. To a round of applause, the event wrapped up and our UK visitors concluded a very full day visit to the project they generously support which is transforming so many lives here in Rural Arusha.