McGill nurse visits women’s and youth groups in Njombe: third update from Christina Clausen

Christina Clausen is the first McGill Nurses for Highlands Hope Fellow. She is visiting Njombe and Makete Districts, exploring how the relationship between the McGill School of Nursing in Montreal and Highlands Hope nurses can grow.

It is hard to believe that more than half my time is over here in Tanzania! The last few weeks have gone by quickly as we have been preoccupied and concerned given the recent events that occurred in Bulongwa. These situations can be very difficult to understand and often cause feelings of discouragement, frustration and anger. Yet, what amazes me in this time of challenge, is the constant reminder of an equal and opposing force of hope that is always at work, often presenting itself in subtle ways. It is never difficult to find examples of strength, courage and movement forward in everyday life here.

Last week, Betty and I traveled across town to attend a meeting with a group called TULILUMWI, which means "WE ARE TOGETHER". TULILUMWI became an NGO on May 30, 2006. Presently, it consists of 20 members (17 women and 3 men). All of the members are people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) and work as peer health educators in their village and surrounding areas. Betty has been providing some of their education training sessions.

The group is well organized having a co-ordinator, secretary and treasurer and have adopted a collective approach in generating income. Every member pays 1000Tsh (Approximately CN$1) membership fee and 500Tsh per month when they convene for their monthly meetings. (This does not include the time and cost of traveling to Njombe for the meetings as many come from far distances as well as a fragile health status at times) This group has clear goals in providing support to other PLWHA and to raise awareness in their communities in the importance of getting tested and treated.

These women and men take risks everyday by sharing their status with others with the hope of decreasing stigma and discrimination. Often, they are accused of having spread the virus and are only shamed and punished by their neighbours. But they continue on. They continue to find strength in one another to meet these challenges and work together to care for themselves and their community. They take things slowly and patiently and work from within creating a practical approach to sustainability. They are reaching their goals. Through the donation of goats and chickens from a local church organization, they are sharing the profits from milk, meat and eggs as well as providing nutritional support to those with HIV/AIDS in the villages. TULILUMWI could not have been a more appropriate and fitting name for this group!

This past Wednesday, Betty was asked to provide a part of the education training to 60 youths representing the Njombe/Makete district. They are all training to become peer health educators for their village. Topics included a review of reproductive health, male and female anatomy, family planning, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. It was truly a joy to observe for many reasons. Betty created an environment that was open and direct. I could feel the group relax over time and begin to share their vulnerabilities in asking their intimate and personal questions.

Betty answered them factually and with a good sense of humor. What impressed me the most was their thirst for knowledge and their desire in wanting to understand their bodies and how they functioned. Other than a one hour break for lunch, this group started at 08:30 and finished at 07:00pm and they easily could have continued! I realized even more clearly by the end of that day just how vital the youth of communities truly are. They have the power to change their future and to make an immense difference in the fight against HIV/AIDS. By wanting to learn and understand factual information, they begin the process of informed decision-making and in making responsible choices when engaging in sexual relationships.

There is hope, there is strength and there is movement forward!

October 12, 2006