Today was a day of hope. We were joined by Ben Plumpley and Julie McHugh, our friends from Johnson & Johnson, who were visiting to see our programs and also to figure out how to set up a system to get ARV's to people living with AIDS. One million people have already died unnecessarily of AIDS in Uganda. Another 1 million are currently living with AIDS. 200,000 are in the final stages and need the medication. But only 90,000 currently have access to it. So far, Uganda has brought down the prevalence rate from around 30% in the early '90s to 6.4%, but in the last two years it's started to increase again due to complacency, an increase of cross-generational sex, and high risk behavior in general.
We started off giving a general presentation in the office and then we headed over to The Reach Out Centre, which is one of our 49 partners for our Basic Care package program. We have an initiative there called "Positive Living" that involves getting Basic Care Packages to people with AIDS. The Basic Care Package includes a few bottles of Waterguard (water purification), two long-lasting treated mosquito nets, condoms, vital health information on positive living (including nutrition), and a water vessel to safely store the treated water, with a water filter. In two years we have given out 103,000 kits. That's at least 103,000 lives saved.
Kits stretch over five regions of Uganda. It's quite an impressive system. The sites we support have peer educators who are all living with AIDS. They reach out to other people, to encourage them to get tested and get help. They tell their own story, act as role models, show how healthy they are, and in this way built trust with their neighbors, while promoting the use and effects of the basic care package. It costs only $25 dollars to transform someone's life!
Next we met a few of the villagers who have become peer educators.
Ramlat Shaban, a vibrant lady in her late 50s, lives in a shack with her 20-year-old daughter, Babirye Agatha, in a village called Bugolobi. She showed me her little house with pride. When she pointed out her care package, she grinned from ear to ear. "It saved my life" she told me. "I contracted HIV from my husband, and I went to get tested when he died of AIDS." She then got diarrhea and it would not go away. She visited the community React Out Centre after being referred to it by a friend and was immediately put on ARV's and was given the care package.
Diarrhea comes from drinking dirty water and, seeing as the whole village gets its water from the village stream, it is full of animal and human feces. In the care package you have the water purification kit and a net to prevent malaria.
Ramlat spends her spare time spreading the word about the community center. She has recently been invited to Japan to tell her story. This will be her second time going abroad for this reason.
We then hit a local college. We walked into a regular classroom scene, with about 40 young girls. Rachel, the teacher, who we were to find out is the team leader, was very enthusiastically talking to the girls about not taking up with "Sugar Daddies."
She was drawing on the flip chart, and the girls were hanging on her every word with admiration. Julie, Ben, and I snuck in, but then were announced as the people responsible for funding the program. Actually, the funding had come from ALDO Shoes with our joint campaign, "ALDO Fights AIDS," the See No Evil Campaign). We had sent over $1 million last year to fund this club, "The Go-Getters" — what a great decision that was! Watching these girls brought tears to my eyes.
I soon understood why the club was called "Go-Getters"! It's formed with the notion that the best way of reaching young girls is peer to peer. We identify "it girls" in schools and train them to be peer educators. This is what this session was all about. Julie took the floor and started to engage the girls. We went around the room and asked them to tell us what their ambitions were. One after the other they told us how they wanted to do things to help the community and their country.