Mothers’ Support Group for women with HIV/AIDS
by Karen Preskey Glover (Agaro 2007–09)
I recently felt the great joy of learning that an Ethiopian restaurant had just been opened in my very own Fargo, ND. This meant that I no longer had to wait six months to a year between my trips to Minneapolis to enjoy my fill of injera, tibs, shiro, and miser wot. (I know I could make it at home, but it’s just never the same!) So, upon the discovery of Habesha Cuisine Restuaurant, I wasted no time in visiting and spamming my Facebook friends with this information so as to ensure it stays in business.
I received some good-natured ribbing from an acquaintance of mine, wondering what my obsession with Ethiopia and Habesha was all about. It was then that I realized, 5 years out, not everyone I know is aware of this huge part of my life. I served in Agaro, Ethiopia (about an hour from Jimma in Oromya) from 2007 to 2009 as an HIV/AIDS Community Outreach Advisor. Sometimes it really is hard to believe it has been that long ago already. I am still intermittently homesick for Ethiopia and have been reminiscing a lot since my has-it-really-been-five-years discovery.
I was part of the first group of PCVs to return to Ethiopia after a ten-year absence. When I arrived in Agaro, I realized just how much work was cut out for me. Of course, we were told all about the importance of integration and all that jazz. But what none of my cohort realized, was that since we weren’t teachers, no one at our respective sites really understood why we were there! So I spent a lot of that first year drinking buna, taking Orominya language lessons, socializing with the health center staff, and getting to know my neighbors.
Along the way, I managed to pick up some small projects. I worked with mobile HIV testing drives, helped consolidate statistics about HIV testing at the health center, and got involved with the Agaro Secondary School’s Girls’ Club were I facilitated English language and Life Skills lessons.
I also coordinated communication, via Peace Corps’ Coverdell Worldwise Schools program, between the Girls’ Club and an elementary school classroom in Louisiana where a friend was a Teach for America volunteer. The girls really enjoyed seeing what school was like in the US. They also loved practicing their English and sharing Ethiopian culture with the American students by creating a video introducing a traditional coffee ceremony.
We also sent my friend’s classroom a CD of Ethiopian music videos that I’m told they adored. She says that on days when the kids where particularly rowdy, she would turn on those videos, and they channeled their energy through dancing to the music.
Finally, in my second year I found my primary project in creating a Mothers’ Support Group for Women with HIV/AIDS. With the help of the Agaro Health Center staff, Mothers2Mothers, and a Peace Corps Partnership grant, we were able to train two nurses to coordinate the program and five women as peer mentors. The mentors supported the prenatal clinic by encouraging new mothers to get tested. They also offered immediate support and counseling in our private office in the event of a positive HIV result.
The energy, joy, and passion of those five women was inspiring. They held weekly support group meetings where they provided education, support, and time for socialization. By the time I left Agaro, they didn’t seem to need me anymore. Really, I don’t think they every needed me beyond that of me helping to get the resources together. It was their project. And I think that’s the way Peace Corps should work.