Men As Partners Program – a great success!
As EFA’s technical advisor and as one of 13 facilitators of the Men As Partners program, I am proud to report that our February 2010 training has been a genuine success!
This two-week-long health education and wellness training benefited 30 young men who are infected or affected with HIV. They learned concrete ways to live “positively”, the essentials of sexual and reproductive health, and the ins-and-outs of HIV prevention.
Equally importantly, they had in depth conversations about how certain notions of masculinity can hinder men’s health and well-being. The participants recognized that they were part of a “society” and as such they could participate in and change their society; they realized that they didn’t have to wait for change to come but that they could be the stimulus.
Because of their HIV+ status, many of the men have been made to feel as outsiders in their own communities. Yet, after this training, many noted that they now feel like they can play a constructive role in their communities and in their own families. Quite profoundly, a 14-year-old participant, a son to two HIV+ parents, commented that he felt a responsibility to protect and respond to the needs of his family. With the tools that he gained over the two weeks, he will be able to do it!
Taking a positive approach, the Men As Partners program is based on the beliefs that: men have a personal investment in challenging the current order; that men can be allies in the improvement of their own health; and that the health of the women and children are so often placed at risk because of strict gender roles and stereotypes.
Men, even those who are sometimes violent or do not show respect toward their partners, have the potential to be respectful and caring partners, to negotiate in their relationships with dialogue and respect, to share responsibilities for reproductive health, HIV prevention and care, and to interact and live in peace and coexistence instead of with violence.
While the expectations for the program were high, even so I would have been happy if just one man carried one nugget of information back home with him and transformed one small aspect of his family life.
But something much more profound happened: towards the end of the training, the men said that they wanted to recreate the Men As Partners sessions in their own communities. During the last session, they created specific action plans for fighting some of the societial ills we discussed over the two weeks. It is true that change begins at home, and I am excited to look for signs of the sweeping change over time!
Sometimes the problems of the world can seem insurmountable. We speak of uncontrollable HIV rates, gender inequity and violence, and then experience difficulty in defining solutions. The Men as Partners program created a space for discussing and taking action on real solutions for the 30 participants. They are now dedicated to preserving their own health and promoting the health of their communities. And the have the skills to act upon it!
I would be completely remiss if I did not take this opportunity to thank my Peace Corps colleagues: Brian, Josh, Dan, Brad, and Phil. They, with their counterparts, tirelessly facilitated 61 sessions over the course of the program. And not easy sessions, given the taboos that exist here and the topics being discussed! In addition, we Peace Corps volunteers are all tremendously lucky to have Cameroonian counterparts, like Alim and Amada, who joined us in the facilitation and who drove the participants to consistently dig deeper into the issues at hand.
I thank you, all who have helped to make the Men As Partners program possible! Your generosity has not gone unnoticed! The participants thank you! And — by extension— their communities thank you!!