Sasha Kasthuriarachchi shares the results from a PEPAIDS SWOT analysis.
2010 to early January 2011, I was very busy running a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis for PEPAIDS so that we could establish some key baseline data for some of the activities that are going on in the field. The main aim of this analysis was to establish the kinds of activities our AIDS Action Clubs are running with the communities, where UK volunteers skills and expertise are most needed and what challenges and issues our clubs face and how we can best assist them to overcome these.
This survey was also important because for the last two years our partner NGO, SAPEP, has had very little funding from other donors outside PEPAIDS and so as a result they could not afford to visit all the clubs they had been working with.
Consequently, some clubs had not been worked with or visited for a period of 2 years and so PEPAIDS decided to use the opportunity of my year funded by the Vodafone World of Difference scheme to conduct this survey and find out the current status of our AIDS Action Clubs. How many of them had survived without continued support from SAPEP? Were their membership numbers decreasing or increasing? Were they all still running activities? These were all questions we wanted to find the answers to.
I surveyed 69 out of 125 clubs across the districts of Mazabuka and Monze and it was a really exciting experience because for two and a half solid months I was in the field meeting and talking to communities. I also had to learn to be comfortable on the back of a motorbike and conduct the survey in all weathers - as the months progressed it became wetter and wetter, and more than once I had to conduct a meeting soaked from head to toe!
The results of the analysis were eventually compiled into a 55-page report which we will now use to plan SAPEP and PEPAIDS' future strategy, especially in relation to which areas we need to apply for funding for. I wanted to share a few of the most interesting results with you and in some cases explain what we will now be doing to respond to these needs in relation to the expansion of the Engage project volunteering scheme.
In terms of club membership, 38 out of the 69 clubs surveyed across Monze and Mazabuka reported that their membership numbers were increasing. This equates to 55 per cent of the total number of clubs surveyed reporting an increase. The most popular reason given for increasing membership were the income generation activities (IGAs) that clubs had been encouraged to start in order to make their club activities sustainable: many clubs explained that outsiders were attracted to the evident benefits, skills and economic empowerment gained by club members through IGAs and therefore wanted to join. Livestock IGAs such as goat or chicken rearing were most frequently mentioned as responsible for increase in club membership as these programmes also enable empowerment and sustainable livelihood at an individual level.
Vitally, through the SWOT analysis we discovered that not only is club membership increasing, but also many of our clubs are still running outreach activities regularly. The majority of clubs surveyed reported that they were delivering outreach programmes once per month, whilst others were running weekly and fortnightly programmes. Some clubs even indicated that they were doing outreach in the community more than once per week! Only one club out of the 69 that took part in the survey said that they were not running any outreach programmes.
The fact that despite a two-year gap in support from SAPEP over half the clubs surveyed reported an increase in their membership figures and the majority of clubs are also delivering activities in the community really speaks to the strength and sustainability of our programme and the work that has been done on the ground. SAPEP's work uses a 'ladder of empowerment' model where they capacity build communities and clubs on a grassroots level to combat HIV/AIDS and focus on making everything they do sustainable. Eventually, SAPEP aims to be able to leave some of the communities we work with so that they can move on to work in other areas. Due to the gap in funding that occurred, SAPEP had to leave certain communities earlier than it would have liked to but the SWOT showed that despite this many clubs continued to increase their membership and deliver activities.
Income gGeneration activities are the name of the game!
I've already mentioned that IGAs are a popular reason for people deciding to join our AIDS Action Clubs but through the survey we discovered that for many clubs, IGAs formed the 'back bone' to all the other services being delivering within the communities. The results of the survey clearly showed that many clubs are selling assets to assist those who are sick or going through a bereavement or using the pass on programme to give orphans a goat so they can support themselves. IGAs are therefore fundamental in enabling AIDS Action Clubs to provide care and support to the vulnerable groups that they have in their communities. Many clubs also cited that by being able to generate an income also helps to alleviate poverty within the community and club members often identified that IGAs have clearly enabled many of them to improve their livelihoods, find individual empowerment, and sustain themselves and their families. Clubs have also found that having economic independence can reduce their dependency on donations and handouts and many clubs also emphasised how activities that reduced and alleviated poverty would improve life for the younger generations in their families. Ultimately, the majority of our clubs are now looking to scale up their IGAs so that they can use the profits to run bigger projects in their communities.
Running income generation programmes are, however, not without their difficulties. Many clubs stated that they lacked livestock management skills, which has resulted in the death of livestock due to largely preventable diseases. We quickly realised that this is quite a serious issue for AIDS Action Clubs and their communities because they not only losing a valuable source of income but it also impacts on other programmes that rely on the profit made through the IGAs, such as the delivery of care and support in the community.
To try and overcome these problems and capacity build our clubs in the area of livestock management skills I am now looking into recruiting volunteers who are studying agriculture and farming at university and see if they could come out on volunteering placements with PEPAIDS to support and capacity build the IGA in the field. Some students on these courses are required to complete a placement abroad and I really think that PEPAIDS would be in a position to facilitate students' elective placements in this area. I am also in the process of looking for assistance on a local level by liaising with the Zambian College of Agriculture in Monze and seeing if people studying or teaching agriculture and farming there would be willing to work with PEPAIDS to assist our programmes.
Prevention of HIV/AIDS is still a big issue for our communities
After the introduction of anti retroviral treatment (ART) in 2004, the focus of the Zambian government and many donors quickly moved from HIV/AIDS prevention programmes to increasing and improving the distribution of ART and increasing communities access to it, especially in the most rural areas of the country. Whilst SAPEP understood the need for this, they still believe that prevention should remain a key focus in their work. For every single person that starts effective ART in Zambia, 6 new people become infected with the virus and so for us, preventing people from becoming infected with HIV and enabling them to make informed choices about their sexual health is of paramount importance.
But what would our AIDS Action Clubs say about this? Is this a fair assessment? The results from the SWOT analysis showed us that HIV/AIDS prevention was indeed still a huge priority for our clubs. The most common activities that clubs delivered in their communities were to do with HIV/AIDS prevention: from sports outreach and theatre for development which raises awareness of the issues surrounding the disease to under-five and antenatal clinic outreaches through which people are encouraged to go for voluntary counselling and testing. Furthermore, when we asked clubs how they decided which activities they would prioritise they indicated that the main motivation is the reduction of the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in their communities and education around the disease. Many clubs also want to ensure adherence to ART through their work: some clubs mentioned alcohol abuse as an issue in their communities, and as a result of this, adherence is a problem. The fact that clubs are primarily selecting activities aimed at fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS also indicates that there is still a 'felt need' in the communities for HIV prevention messages to be spread.
Importantly, a large proportion of our clubs mentioned the importance of stigma reduction in their work - through their prevention activities many more people are now willing to go for VCT and publicise their positive status. Stigma around HIV/AIDS, however, continues to be a problem and pose huge challenges to the work that the clubs are doing. Some of the clubs explained in detail the kinds of opinions, myths and misconceptions that they faced when in the community which ranged from people believing that 'if you go for VCT you will die', to 'everyone doing sensitisations [awareness raising about HIV/AIDS] are HIV positive'. Perhaps the most shocking statement I heard when conducting the surveying Ngwezi 'B' zone in Mazabuka, where a club stated that there were still many negative attitudes towards HIV in their community and that a prevalent idea is that people shouldn't avoid catching the disease because it 'comes for people'.
So how can PEPAIDS use UK volunteers to support the HIV/AIDS prevention work that our clubs are doing? One thing that AIDS Action Clubs have specifically asked for is training and capacity building in the area of sports and theatre for development, which are key areas of the prevention programme. For sports we are currently looking into recruiting volunteers who have recently achieved their coaching qualifications as well as university/college students studying sports science. However, I think that volunteers with a keen interest in sports or knowledge about a particular sport could also still visit Zambia and help to capacity build our clubs. During a short trip back to the UK, I also visited The University of Manchester and spoke to their drama and Applied Theatre students (undergraduates and postgraduates) about our new volunteering scheme in Theatre for Development and how UK volunteers could deliver training sessions to our clubs on new theatre techniques. I am now hoping to link with several other universities running drama programmes and see if their students would be interested in undertaking volunteering placements in Zambia.
The communities also asked for updates on HIV/AIDS from UK volunteers as they are keen to ensure that the information they give out to communities is up to date and accurate. Our latest batch of volunteers on our Health volunteering scheme are now developing training workshops on topics such as ART and Preventing Mother to Child Transmission that they can deliver during their placement.
There were many other useful and interesting results that came out of the SWOT analysis survey but for me, the greatest thing about collecting this base line data was that we were able to find out the needs of our clubs and the communities they serve, first hand. Hopefully, we can now respond to these needs and do everything in our power to ensure they are met.
Sasha Kasthuriarachchi is one of the eight 2010 Vodafone Foundation World of Difference International winners. To find out more about this opportunity visit the World of Difference website
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