In Myanmar, Agape Community Services went to the Kalay-Kabaw Valley, one of the highest risk areas of HIV transmission in the country, to design a project that would be a faith-based response to HIV-related stigma and discrimination.
Supported by WACC, the project was designed to be implemented in 30 communities in the area with a total population of about10,000. The project sought to increase the participation of HIV positive persons in community life.
Through the project, Agape Community Service has gained prominence as a group engaged in important work on HIV and AIDS.
Last July, communication skills training was initiated. Thirty people attended, including religious leaders, community authorities, and HIV positive participants. They gained an understanding of stigma and discrimination and its causes. They learned about the need and importance of communication skills. They gained awareness on how to reduce stigma and deal with public discrimination directed to those infected or affected by the virus. They realized the need to overcome the six related impediments of stigma: shame, denial, discrimination, negligence, marginalization, and mistreatment.
Twenty-six HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns were conducted and information materials distributed in targeted communities. The facilitators contacted 1,300 community members and about 480 people living with HIV and AIDS (PLHIV). The participants gained knowledge of HIV and AIDS, reproductive health, rights of PLHIV and orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs). Gradually, the participants’ behavior and attitudes have been changed on PLHIV and OVCs. As a result, they began to gain awareness on how fellow PLHIV, family members, and relatives can be encouraged at home, at workplaces, in churches and in the community.The PLHIV faith-based response team visited 30 churches and reached out to 10,000 people, discussing HIV and AIDS and socializing with others in the communities. The team advocates for a Christian response to care, support and work together to reduce stigma and discrimination.
What was the impact of the project? People living with the virus who were once isolated and hidden now fearlessly stand up for HIV awareness education, claiming equality and human rights for everyone. Their positive spirit is evident. Once they expected outside help, but now they have developed an ownership spirit over their affairs. New PLHIV self-help groups were formed in Tamu and Tedim townships in Chin State.
World AIDS Day 2012 was commemorated, church leaders from various denominations, local authorities, and other representatives attended. Peer PLHIV led the service and delivered speeches, mainly lobbying for support from the community and opportunities for involvement in community life.