Friends’ forum: An approach to overcome fear and stigma.
By Venus Okello
The friends’ forum is a pillar among the various interventions related to Child and Adolescent Health Care started by Reach Out Mbuya Parish HIV/AIDS Initiative (ROM). The children during these forums are divided into different age groups and sex to discuss challenges regarding body hygiene and general information.
Through this program, ROM has observed young people together with partners determined to work collaboratively to tackle the various health and social related issues affecting them.
When these children attend Friends’ Forum, they are happy, a feeling that they are not alone. The children have become responsible and accountable for each other. Friends’ Forum has made them overcome fear, stigma and experience freedom like any other child regardless of their status.
Achan Leticia 9 years old, lives with her uncle. At his home, she was segregated from the rest of the children. Her plates, cups, clothes and beddings were kept separately from others for fear of infecting other children with HIV. Unable to speak out at home, she disclosed to a peer during friends forum, the peer talked to the uncle who apologized and promised to change.
Nakatte Nina 18 years old during the older children’s session shared that through the Friends Forum she was able to disclose her status to the boyfriend whom she had lived with for a long time. Her boyfriend later visited ROM for testing and found he was negative. They are now living together with a baby which she believes, she could not have achieved if not for the friends’ forum.
Social issues faced at home are also addressed through this platform, the children have been able to speak to their peers and social workers and sought support in cases of abuse or mistreatment.