Logy @ SAHARA: The Role of FBOs in the fight against the HIV/AIDS Pandemic 1/12/2011

CABSA Founder Ms Logy Murray represented CABSA partners WorldVision, CABSA and the Dutch Reformed Church in this discussion:

Due to time limits Logy could not present all her thoughts, but we copy the text of the presentation she would have liked to give!

Contribution to the SAHARA Round Table Discussion

The Role of faith-based organisations (FBOs) in the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic

I am so glad for the space created at this conference to also focus on the role of faith based organizations - also asking the question:  Are we turning the tide on HIV and AIDS?  I know the topic for this section is “The Role of faith based organizations (FBOs) in the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic, but I would have loved to rephrase this to read: Faith inspired organisations respond to HIV and AIDS! Why the changes?

  • (1)   FBOs – who are they?  Churches, mosques, synagogues, congregations?  Or perhaps people inspired by their faith to respond – forming NGOs?  I believe we talk about all of them!  Actually I am representing the full spectrum!  I am here on representing my own church – the Dutch Reformed Church!  But I also represent two Christian organizations, formed and inspired by Christians:  The Christian AIDS Bureau for Southern Africa, and World Vision International.
  • (2)   Changing from “fighting” to “responding”!  If we continue using “battle” language, we will keep on pushing people living with HIV into the arena of a fight.  I would rather visualize a group of passionate people engaging seriously at all levels with the challenges HIV and AIDS has brought to our lives – inclusive of yours and mine.  I am not fighting something or someone – I am walking alongside, facing hopeful outcomes.

We were asked to respond to a few bullet points – and I will try my best to capture some thoughts that could lead to discussion, but also to celebration.  (perhaps we are sometimes fighting so much that we do not have time to celebrate!) I will sometimes respond from our church perspective, and sometimes from the “NGO/FBO” perspective the that I represent.

·         The faith base of our involvement in HIV/AIDS (prevention, treatment, care, etc)

Firstly: No church can effectively respond to HIV and AIDS if not coming from its roots, the core, the heart of their faith. Who is the church?  It is made up of people like you and me.  Yes, there are formal meetings and declarations and initiatives – but in the end it is how individuals respond from their position and understanding of God – who he/she is – and who we are.  The key values of the Dutch Reformed Church have been moulded during the past 6 years through deep thought and a process of “listening” to God and to one another.  These values guide our response to HIV and AIDS: Compassion, Teachability, Openness and Trust. In addition to this, a culture of “embracing” the value and dignity of every human being is growing.  This goes beyond the formal declaration of intent of the DRCs involvement in HIV and AIDS - published in 1998, which renewed in 2005.  Who we are – our values, encourage and drive our congregations to reach out with love, compassion, to provide trust worthy information and learn as we walk the road with our brothers and sisters who know the pain or know the way forward. We do not only challenging HIV directly, but also the contexts which drive and fuel the pandemic – especially poverty, family relationships, gender imbalances and abuse.  What glows in your heart will flow in your deeds!  We do not preach involvement – our faith base leads us to practical acts of love and compassion.  One of the core programmes we implement is based on 9 guiding principles from the Bible.

We do not preach involvement – our faith base leads us to practical acts of love and compassion.  BUT – unfortunately some faith leaders interpret their sacred texts wrongly, or use it irresponsibly – leading to stigma, discrimination, and yet – sometimes to more infections!  I will come back to these statements later.

·         The extent of our current work in the HIV/AIDS field

The Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa:

It is impossible to give you a rundown of the work of the 1,100 congregations of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa – and even more challenging to mention the work of “Faith Inspired” projects managed by the Church focusing on prevention, care, treatment and advocacy. Let me mention a few outreach programmes that focus on some of the most vulnerable groups regarding HIV -
·         Engagement with street children and children vulnerable because of HIV – some orphaned
·         Empowerment of women – to create income, but also to foster healthy family relationships
·         Practical support through distribution of food, and arranging transport to clinics
·         Addressing alcoholism and substance abuse which leads to wrong decisions in sexual behaviour
·         Income generating projects

But let me give you more details of one or two projects inspired by our Christian faith.

(1)   The CLF (Christian Literature Fund):  This organizations produces literature – easy for reading and understanding – especially for people with a low literacy level.  They also distribute such materials developed by other organizations, such as the “Called to Care” series of Strategies for Hope – a set of 10 books which guides congregations towards a Christian Response to HIV and AIDS.

(2)   In 2001 – 10 years ago – it was the Dutch Reformed Church which gave the first seed money to start an organization that is now know worldwide – the Christian AIDS Bureau for Southern Africa! This is no longer a “DRC” project – it has grown to be a NGO/FBO of note! I want to highlight one tool which was developed by CABSA, which is now being used by many churches in South Africa, as well as global organizations such as World Vision International and AIDSlink.


CABSA guides and supports churches/congregations in a holistic an comprehensive response to HIV and AIDS.  It’s four focus areas are:
·         Advocacy and Sensitizing
·         Training and mentoring of Channels of Hope facilitators
·         Knowledge and information sharing  (CARIS)
·         Networking and cooperation

But I want to mention a tool developed but them – a transformation tool!  “Churches, Channels of Hope”!  They train facilitators to guide congregations in a holistic and comprehensive response to HI and AIDS – ant this is being used internationally by organizations such as World Vision, AIDSlink and many churches in South Africa.

World Vision:

World Vision’s HIV work centres around prevention, care and advocacy.  But I want to focus on our use of “Channels of Hope”.  Since 2004 we have trained more than 3,000 Channels of Hope facilitators, who facilitate capacity building events and processes.  In Africa alone more than 46,000 volunteers have been empowered through Channels of Hope to reach out through home visits to orphaned households, to provide home based care and to run prevention initiatives. One of the most evident impacts of Channels of Hope was documented during a three year operations research done in Uganda and Zambia. Through the implementation of Channels of Hope there was a significant reduction in the levels of HIV related stigma in the communities. (Slide on punishment from God).

But this is not the only HIV response of World Vision. We have a strong outreach to orphans and vulnerable children (during the past 10 years in Africa alone we managed to facilitate the formation of 4222 community-led initiatives caring for 1.2 million OVC.

Our latest involvement is “cPMTCT” – “Commnity” PMTCT. Complementing the clinical approach of PMTCT – which includes a strong focus on pongs 1, 2 and 4 – with emphasis on community supporting action e.g. mobilizing faith communities, emphasis on male involvement, support for ARV adherence, continued care for pregnant mothers, strengthened community support for exclusive breastfeeding etc! Together we can turn the tide – and embrace the slogan of this year’s WAD: Zero new infections, Zero discrimination, and Zero AIDS related deaths!

·         The recognition (or lack thereof) of their work in the HIV/AIDS field by governments, non-FBOs, etc

A typical South African cry would be “eich!”… We know that various UN agencies, such as UNAIDS and UNFPA has officially recognized the role of FBOs in a comprehensive response to HIV and AIDS.

I want to make a statement that faith communities remain the single most important partner in the quest for community development.  And this has been recognised also lately but UN agencies:

UNAIDS: Advocating for “structured and ongoing relationships” with faith-based communities “to ensure delivery on commitments to universal access within the context of the AIDS response” – UNAIDS Partnership with Faith-based Communities: UNAIDS Strategic Framework, 2009. www.unaids.org

UNFPA: Advocating for “systematic and deliberate engagement of the like‐minded partners among them (faith communities)”  - UNFPA Guidelines for Engaging Faith Based Organizations as Agents of Change, 2009. www.unfpa.org

But it still feels as though FBOs are marginalized and not recognized fully – especially when it comes to funding for faith-based or faith inspired initiatives. We know that funding for HIV is globally dwindling – which is so sad! – we cannot stop now!  We are turning the tide!  What would it help if all the clinical work is done professionally with wonderful results – but the stigma in our communities still prevent people from being tested – or the medication is not accessible and faith communities are not empowered to form the supporting initiatives.  More than one FBO (or FIO) in South Africa are facing closure!  The one cannot be done without the other!  We want to thank many non-FBOs which have recognized the role of FBOs, but perhaps this should be more prominent in our Southern African society.

·         The aspect(s) of their work and approaches to HIV/AIDS that may be deemed controversial and how they mitigate against negative criticism

I do not think any of our work or approaches to HIV are deemed controversial for non FBO people – BUT some of our approaches are deemed controversial for our own brothers and sisters!  Sadly, for many years people thought that FBOs will only be able to talk about “A” and “B” of the ABC prevention approach.  This is very sad – especially because ABC is such a limited prevention strategy!  As CABSA, World Vision, and many congregations in our church – now embrace the acronym developed by INERELA+ : SAVE!  So, within our own “FBO” constituencies we have been blamed to encourage prostitution and irresponsible sexual behaviour by talking openly about the value of condoms, of circumcision and safe needle supply.

How we mitigate against this?  Well, we are actually only living out our core values!  Compassion, Truth, Openness and Teachability!  In the Channels of Hope programme which I mentioned, we assist faith communities – faith leaders – to grapple with the realities of HIV infection as a health issue, instead of making it a moral issue.  Each church/denomination/individual needs a safe space to openly ask questions of faith while discovering the scientific facts.  I have so many stories of pastors, priests, imams, sheiks that expressed an eagerness to engage in HIV from a new understanding of the realities.

·         The future role of FBOs in the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic

I think the future role of FBOs will not be much different from the past, but I want to highlight just 5 important roles:
(1)   Strengthening their advocacy voice to address policies and practice
(2)   Encourage stronger male involvement and appropriate (Biblical) understanding of gender roles
(3)   Open doors to - and provide accessible, comprehensive knowledge
(4)   Continue to break stigma and negative attitudes – while addressing harmful cultural practices
(5)   Be good “stewards” – of the resources – especially with less funding available

Perhaps a bit more emphasis on their role to reach Zero infections by 2015

I want to end with a quote:
“Go to the people.  Live with them.  Learn from them.  Love them.  Start with what they know.  Build with what they love.  With the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say, ‘We have done this ourselves!”      Lao Tsu, 700 BC















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