Peer-to-Peer Mentorship through SLF’s partnership with Aeroplan Beyond Miles

A million miles, a million ways to soar

Since 2003, The Stephen Lewis Foundation has been partnering with grassroots organizations in Africa that are working tirelessly to beat back the ravages of AIDS. We have seen significant ground gained as communities move from scrambling to cope with the impact of the pandemic, to rebuilding their communities and teaching others how to replicate their successes.  While this is happening, powerful voices are emerging in communities – formidable champions for change and advocates for human rights around HIV and AIDS from the frontlines.

How is Beyond Miles contributing to turning the tide of AIDS?  Here is just one powerful example: Peer-to-Peer Mentorship Programmes.

The Stephen Lewis Foundation uses miles to bring people together, to build relationships, exchange knowledge and experience and generate the ground-breaking ideas that will turn the tide of the AIDS pandemic in Africa. Grassroots organizations have taught us that this is critical if lasting change is to be secured.

It brought together two powerfully effective groups last year with remarkable results: Touch Roots Africa (TRA) is a community organization in Lesotho focussing on working with orphaned and abused children, and The AIDS Information Support Centre (TASC) in Swaziland – an organization specializing in HIV and AIDS issues and home-based community care.

Over the course of the year they partnered to increase their organizational capacities and enhance the efficiency, impact and reach of their programming. They trained each other in ‘best practices’, they shared their successes and challenges, and the results were more profound than either organization had imagined!

Touch Roots Africa trained TASC on child rights and protection. As a result, TASC now has a fleet of home based care workers who have unprecedented access to homes through health care delivery, and who are now able to identify children who are abused, vulnerable or have special needs. These home based care workers received training on how to approach the topic with the child’s caregivers, assess the safety of a situation, and identify the resources and child protection services available in the community.

Hundreds of children have already been assisted. Last month, an HIV positive mother receiving home based care from a TASC worker received referral and support to access services for her hearing impaired daughter. For the first time, this young girl is learning to communicate and is beginning to thrive. Her mother, relieved of the stress and concern over her daughter’s future, is also seeing an improvement in her own health.

TASC’s other community partners are so inspired and affected by the success of TASC’s work, they asked them for training so they, too, can incorporate child protection into their programming. In Swaziland where TASC is based, the Ministry of Health pledged to incorporate TASC’s Children’s Psychosocial Support programme into the national training counselors receive on HIV Testing and Counseling.

“When we pass skills on from grassroots to grassroots, then from grassroots to community and finally grassroots to government – this is capacity building, this is true sustainability.”

- Peer-mentorship Programme participant

The significance of this partnership for Touch Roots Africa was equally ground-breaking.
Thanks to their training from TASC around HIV/AIDS and children, Touch Roots Africa now has staff and volunteers who know how to talk to grandparents and guardians of children orphaned by HIV and AIDS about disclosure of HIV status, the loss of their parents, sexual and reproductive health, adherence to medicine and the importance of education. One staff member shares this story:

I was giving a workshop to the community on the information we learned from TASC. Attending the training was an elderly man who was caring for his 8 year old grandson whose mother died of AIDS last year. He always struggled with how he would disclose his status to the child:

“I didn’t want him to be scared that I will die too and he will have no one. Also, I was ashamed.”

After the training he went home and disclosed his status to his child. Not only did the child accept, he is his grandfather’s greatest support and reminds him every day when to take his medication. This knowledge is helping bring new families together when they need it most, helping them not to be scared, to face this together and to be strong.

Touch Roots Africa also received training from TASC around equipping youth on developing healthy HIV and AIDS attitudes around prevention, testing and treatment, and breaking the silence caused by stigma. When they shared this training with their HIV positive youth groups, these young people responded by approaching schools, churches and youth clubs in their community and asking how they could help.  In one high school the teachers identified a student who had stopped taking her medication and they didn’t know what to do. The youth from Touch Roots Africa started a support group in this school and the student joined them. Not only has she started taking her medication again, but helps others in her school understand the complex barriers that prevent young people from adhering to life-saving treatment.

Partnership and exchange between community-based organizations has resulted in life-saving and life enhancing initiatives, and the replication of very successful models that improve the quality of life for people infected and affected by HIV and AIDS at community level.

Aeroplan Beyond Miles has made this possible. In supporting critical partnerships, they have fundamentally altered the way grassroots organizations and individuals are able to respond to the pandemic. It’s invaluable.

“What we have achieved in one year is beyond anything we could have done on our own…Peer mentorship addresses the hope for south- to -south learning. There is so much we can learn from each other and we can sustain each other – even when the economy is flagging in the west, we can be strong together.”

- Peer-mentorship programme participant