CHAMPioning The Fight Against AIDS In Rwanda

CHAMPioning the Fight Against AIDS in Rwanda

youth dancing

In the fall of 2005, the President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) selected a consortium, led by CHF International, to implement the USAID-funded Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Program (CHAMP) in Rwanda. Through this program, CHF International works side-by-side with the country's grassroots organizations to build their capacity to help them support, treat and care for hundreds of thousands of Rwandans living with HIV/AIDS and other public health threats, in addition to supporting children who are either infected or affected by the epidemic through the loss of a relative or parent.

In the most unlikely of locations—an abandoned building in Kimisagara with only the hint of a structure left—a powerful group has come together to form the Abuzuzanya Association. The force behind this group is Libératha Mukeshimana, the founding member and president of the association. Libératha is a passionate woman with a big heart whose life in many ways embodies both the impressive strength and resilience of communities coming together to support PLWHA, and the difficult constraints and stigmas still faced by those infected and affected by HIV.

In the last year Libératha, her family, and the other association members have truly felt the impact of CHAMP’s support. Within her own household CHAMP has greatly assisted Libératha as a mother and caregiver. She is the sole provider for her daughter, age 13 (also HIV-positive), her son, age 20, her nephew, age 3, and her niece, age 11. The latter two children came into her care last year as a result of fear and stigma, when following the death of her sister from AIDS the husband refused to care for two of their three children because they were HIV-positive. 

liberatha

I can’t even express how much CHAMP and Urunana (a local partner organization) have helped me and my family.”

—Libératha, CHAMP participant 

CHAMP provides SOSOMA (a nutritional mixture) for the youngest child, school material support for the children in school, secondary school fees for her daughter, and health insurance for the whole family. The rest Libératha provides through her passion, mushroom cultivation. With the support of Urunana and CHAMP she now is cultivating mushrooms with new, improved technology and the associations have organized themselves to buy the needed materials in bulk to reduce costs. After they harvest the mushrooms, the surplus is collected and frozen for sale to hotels and restaurants in Kigali, providing income for PLWHA.

Libératha and the other association members have also benefited from trainings in palliative home-based care, child rights and prevention through abstinence and being faithful. She also noted how crucial the couples training has been in transforming relationships among the PLWHA in the association. Libératha expressed amazement at the changes she saw in many of the couples that went through the training and gave the example of a husband who previously wanted nothing to do with his HIV-positive wife, but following the training had completely changed and began to support and care for her proudly.

Despite the support of CHAMP and the communal strength of Libératha and the other Abuzuzanya Association members, the constraints they face are still many. In the case of the young PLWHA who have left sex work, there is a great need to provide them with alternative ways to support themselves. Many express a passionate desire to return to school to finish their education (they were often forced to leave school at a young age in order to support themselves and their siblings and this is how they became sex workers), but cannot be supported by CHAMP because they are over the 18 years old age limit. Urunana has been working to find other donors to support these young girls to complete their secondary studies and is organizing best practice exchanges with other associations who have successful income generation activities. Libératha knows the association still has many needs to meet, but she is hopeful for the future and what can be done together with the support of CHAMP and Urunana.