Hello South Africans and Global Citizens
The I’m Survivor Campaign and Network Strategy (IMAS) began in 2011, through the establishment of an NGO called Diamond Life Impact projects, NPC. Our goal is to promote HIV competence for everyone. In order to achieve this goal we must recognise what has failed to work previously and innovate new concepts that initiate a mental and emotional shift in how South Africa and the greater world processes the subject of HIV. The fact remains that HIV is a very frightening and stigmatized issue.
Much information based on fear, religion, personal morality, emotional manipulation and hierarchical pressure has been forwarded in failed attempts to confront HIV from public health officials and media. This has had a profound effect on the national psyche and the ability for young people especially to discuss HIV, to adopt a survivors mentality and to become HIV competent. South Africa being the population with the highest per capita prevalence also experienced many years of high death toll due to HIV/AIDS while the government resisted providing treatment with ARVs. Many died unessesarily during this period lasting from the 1990s up until 2008 when the government moved rapidly to provide treatment in public clinics and hospitals which the majority of South Africans depend on for their healthcare.
IMAS is the product of years long research on the ground in areas across South Africa including townships such as Diepsloot and metro areas such as Daveyton. We used a variety of techniques such as focus groups, one on one interviews, community meetings, events and ongoing activities to elicit firsthand knowledge as to how the HIV crisis in South Africa effects communities, families and individuals.
A part of what we did to gain such information was to conduct weekly HIV support groups over a three year period. Working with patients, we were able to gain a practical and useful view of the challenges, desires, insights and valuable life experience of the HIV+ community.
In order to gain a more holistic view of the HIV dynamic we also conducted several non HIV related community projects. This allowed us to interact with a wide variety of community members and seek insight about the many ways HIV intersects with community life. We initiated projects such as establishing a gender violence response team that would support victims of rape and other forms of gender related violence. Studies show us that there is a link between gender violence and HIV infection among women. We also set up a project on food insecurity where we built relationships with families and single parent households with vulnerable children. We further established after school youth projects in soccer, music, theatre, dance and film in which we built amazing relationships with youth. These activities among others built tremendous links and relationships across the township of Diepsloot where our initial research centered. This approach also ensured that we would get a wider perspective than only speaking to those affected or interested in the topic of HIV.
The result of this research told us that any approach that was to be successful with young people needed to deal with the subject of HIV in new ways. We were told that many of the messages they had received made them feel like HIV/AIDS was a plague. This heightened stigma and made discussions around this important topic more uncomfortable.
In South Africa where there was a long period of confusing messages questioning and creating doubt of the link between HIV and AIDS during the Presidency of Thabo Mbeki and through his Minister of Health that lasted until 2008. Simultaneously from the late 1990s until the accelerated roll out of Antiretroviral Treatment in 2009 the public experienced the deaths of many people. This was very traumatic for individuals, families and communities as a whole.
Often HIV was discussed in schools, health settings and through media in catastrophic terms. “AIDS Kills”, AIDS is a killer disease” and “HIV is a life sentence” are examples of the tone of discussions surrounding HIV. Further, images used through media featuring very sick people have also darkened peoples perceptions around the subject of HIV. Accompanying these messages was the ever present red AIDS ribbon.
For many people when they see the red ribbon it brings back painful memories of loved ones who suffered and died during that period. For others who have received messages around HIV that were based in controlling language or language that was perceived as judgemental or moralistic we found that there was a lingering hesitance to have dialog on the issue. This hesitance has cascaded down to the youth and inhibited many of them from freely engaging in dialog or seeking information. Youth are very strongly influenced by their peers and if we have a sizable portion of youth who are uncomfortable speaking with their peers and partners we have to change radically the posture of HIV prevention messages and move away from the red AIDS ribbon that tends to shut down communication and make people feel uncomfortable.
The findings summarized above were incorporated into the design, language and imagery used in the I’m A Survivor Campaign and network strategy. This is some of what makes the IMAS campaign stand apart from other campaigns. Other differentiators can be found in the way we use media, music and ambassadors to make an impact among youth. Bookmark our page and look for further blog posts which will tel you more about our exciting campaign.
I’m A Survivor, Be A Survivor!