|AIDS Education Through Imams: A Spiritually Motivated Community Effort in Uganda (UNAIDS, 1998, 35 p.)|
Controversy over the condom
Perhaps the most difficult issue has been sensitizing Islamic leaders to the important role that the condom plays in preventing transmission of the HIV virus.
Some religious leaders argued that condom education would promote sex outside marriage, which is against Islamic law. They refused to accept this topic in the project curriculum.
In order to encourage wide participation in the FAEPTI Project, IMAU took a cautious approach and removed the topic of the condom from the workshop curriculum in the first year. In its place, IMAU held a dialogue with Islamic leaders to listen to and address their concerns about condoms.
In this dialogue, IMAU stressed that the condom was only being promoted as AIDS protection after the failure of a first and second line of defence: abstaining from sex and having sex only within marriage.
IMAU argued that the third line of defence should not be ignored because human beings have their weaknesses, as witnessed by girls becoming pregnant before marriage and the many cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Married people who ignore condoms often leave orphans behind and this destroys communities.
IMAU argued further that knowing about condoms does not mean that people will use them indiscriminately. Muslims know about alcohol but that does not mean that they drink it.
IMAU emphasized that the condom not only protects against STDs but can be used for family planning by married couples. IMAU noted that several Muslim countries manufacture condoms for their own reproductive health programmes.
Although the Islamic leaders feared that knowledge of the condom would bring promiscuity, IMAU made it clear that many things used irresponsibly are harmful, even food. Using this analogy, IMAU made the important point that communities need to understand responsible eating so that they do not endanger their lives.
At the end of the dialogue, the Islamic leaders agreed that education on the responsible use of the condom was acceptable within Islamic teachings and necessary to defend communities against AIDS. The condom education component was re-inserted in year two.
Sustaining voluntary spirit
Our work depends on volunteers in the field. A big hurdle is to sustain their spirit of volunteerism. Most volunteers stick with the project, but some move away. These are the ones that expect material rewards from IMAU. We encourage the Imams to train other volunteers to take over when these people leave.
It is surprising to see the dedication of our volunteers. Years after the initial training workshops, monthly field reports show that families are still being visited, every day. Our Muslim leaders understand that this AIDS education is benefiting their communities. And the volunteers know that their rewards will be in the life hereafter. Community participation in planning, implementation, and monitoring project activities, plus a sense of ownership of the project by the community, are necessary tools for sustaining project activities.
When communities see us carrying out supportive supervision in the field, they work harder. Supportive supervision is a big motivator for volunteers and helps them carry on. IMAU has gaps in funding and sometimes we cannot travel as much as we would like. This is a problem. We need more local and international collaborators.
Our projects do not screen blood for HIV or dispense food and medicine to families suffering with AIDS. This is another difficulty. People often say, We are already sick. What can you give us? or We want to know if we have HIV. We would like to help these families, but for now we can only refer them to TASO (The AIDS Support Organization) and other organizations like the AIDS Information Centre. Networking with other organizations is invaluable in the fight against HIV/AIDS.