Interview with Africaid Zvandiri
When was Africaid Zvandiri founded and what led to the decision to start the organisation?
Africaid Zvandiri was founded in 2004 here in Harare. It started when a group of teenagers approached us asking for help to set up a support group where young people with HIV could come together and learn about living with HIV and how to cope with different life experiences they face and just to get support from one another and people with similar experiences. At that time there was a group of us working in various clinics looking after people with HIV.
I received a letter from a girl called Simbisai and by that time she was about 14 years old. So we started the first support group in 2004 with a group of volunteers, which included nurses, doctors and counselors working in HIV. We asked the children what they would like to name the support group and they came up with the name and the logo. They named it Zvandiri which is supposed to mean “I maybe HIV positive but accept me the way I am”. As the program started growing the message behind the name stayed true to what they wanted it to be right from the beginning. The children also designed the logo for the organization which has a rock with a door on it symbolizing how after all the experiences their hearts have become hardened, and the support group representing the door into their hearts and with the sun behind showing the light ahead.
We began as one single support group named Zvindiri led by young teenagers living with HIV and the involvement of young people has been the thrust behind this organization from day one.
Who plays the leading role in this important work?
I would say the young people. We have a team of fourteen. Ten are in Harare and four are in Manicaland, Midlands and Bulawayo. We are a team of nurses, counsellors, social workers and finance people. But really the young people are at the forefront of leading, designing and informing the program in terms of what they need.
What is the vision?
The vision is that young people with HIV, children and adolescents up to twenty-four years have the knowledge, skills and confidence to live happy fulfilled lives. We recognised that clinical care isn’t enough for young people with HIV and this was the vision right from the beginning ten years ago. We realised all the psychological and social issues they were experiencing needed to be addressed so this is one of the first support groups in the country for young people with HIV. It has grown over the years from one support group to be a network of twenty groups across Harare.
What kind of programmes are you currently implementing?
Africaid Zvandiri comprises service delivery (which is through the support groups and outreach team), Zvandiri centres and advocacy work. The support groups are run every month by children who participated in setting them up ten years ago and are now administering them for their peers. Zvandiri Centres which are clinic based provide children, youth and adolescents with access to information on how to cope with stigma and status, provide counseling, clinical assessments and sexual reproductive health services.
Most of the young people who participate in Africaid Zvandiri programmes are primarily referred from clinics, schools, churches, the Department Of Social Services, communities and by individuals once they know the child’s HIV status and the child knows his/her status. We provide community based support groups and a community outreach team, which are made up of a doctor, nurses, counsellors and social workers. The community outreach team works in the communities to do follow up visits, counselling, training and identifying children who are unwell and referring them to a clinic. The outreach team has a total of 20 adolescents living with HIV who have been trained and mentored as counselors. They work in the communities and clinics with city health departments providing counseling to their younger peers with the main focus of supporting adherence to ARVs, which complements the work of nurses and counselors. The team also identifies children who maybe struggling with adherence to ARVs and those who are sick and need support from the Department Of Social Welfare.
The aim of the outreach team, the support groups and the four Zvandiri centres in the clinics across Harare is to complement the work being done by the health team at clinics by providing additional counselling and support to the community.
Africaid Zvandiri also conducts training under its advocacy program. Children and adolescents receive training on developing knowledge skills and confidence on how to cope with their HIV status and to live happy, healthy, fulfilled lives. The training program has also targeted caregivers, health workers and community members in an effort to strengthen people’s understanding and responses to the needs of HIV positive children and adolescents.
Do you feel that you are making a significant contribution to the lives of these children?
I believe so. Through direct services that I have been mentioning of building young people’s knowledge and understanding of what’s happening to them, their capacity to cope with the situation and adhere to medication. To help them to be resilient, cope better with stigma and make informed treatment and prevention decisions by keeping them linked to health services..
Which success stories are you most proud of as an organisation?
Tomorrow morning when a group of young people’s song will be played at the International Aids Conference in which they are speaking of their experiences about being HIV positive, openly disclosing publicly to the to the world, is an exceptional highlight! Young people from Africaid Zvandiri have been very much involved in campaigning and raising the profile for the rights of children and adolescents with HIV and some of their efforts have culminated in the production of a music video called How to dance which will be played at the International Aids Conference in Melbourne, Australia.
It has to be one of the proudest moments for the organisation because these young children have overcome challenges in their lives, they have become resilient enough and strong enough to say this is me, “Zvandiri”.
Also we have been running this programme for ten years in Harare now and people have been asking if we are going to cover other areas. I’m proud to say for the past three years we have been able to replicate and integrate the model into other districts and three other provinces.
At an individual level we had one of our girls offered a place to do a Masters in the United Kingdom.
Do you have any events you have planned for the year?
Yes we do. On service delivery we plan to continue strengthening the programme in Harare and continue to scale up across the country and reach out to high priority districts together with Ministry of Health and Child Care.
We are also planning on raising the profile of issues of children living with HIV as a child rights issue. Children have the right to be tested; they have the right to access treatment, they have the right to know about their status and to have families of their own. So where these rights are violated we want to support the Ministry Of Labour And Social Welfare so that children are able to access care.