July 15, 2002 - Reuters Foundation: Africare: glimmer of hope in AIDS crisis

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By Admin1 (admin) on Tuesday, July 23, 2002 - 7:51 pm: Edit Post

Africare: glimmer of hope in AIDS crisis

Read and comment on this story from Reuters on Julius Coles shown in the photo above who is the new President of Africare, a Washington-based nonprofit specializing in grass-roots development that was founded 30 years ago by RPCVs at:

Africare: glimmer of hope in AIDS crisis*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

Africare: glimmer of hope in AIDS crisis

Julius E. Coles joined Africare as its president in June, in succession to C. Payne Lucas, who held the post for 31 years. Kevin Lowther is its regional director for southern Africa. They told Celestine Laporte about the organisation’s history and why it focuses so much of its attention on the AIDS crisis.

AN: How and why did Africare come about?

JEC: Africare was founded in 1971 by a couple of ex-Peace Corps volunteers. It was originally incorporated in Hawaii then moved to Washington. Basically, it grew out of the major Sahelian drought in the 1970s. The president of the Republic of Niger, Hamani Diori, requested that C. Payne Lucas, who we call the founding president of Africare, provide assistance to answer the question ‘Why is it that African Americans are not doing anything to help us with our situation?’ Based upon that and based upon President Lucas’s experience of having worked in Africa, he felt that this was something that needed to be done and needed to be created by a volunteer organisation that would help Africa in its developmental problems.

AN: What are Africare’s core aims and goals?

JEC: The primary mission of Africare is to work to improve the quality of life in Africa and it has designed programmes in private sector development, in governance, in agriculture, health and HIV/AIDS and also by helping with emergencies by humanitarian assistance.

AN: How has this mission evolved throughout Africare’s existence?

JEC: We started off as an emergency relief private voluntary agency, but over a period of time our primary mission has become more and more to help with development in Africa. We are a development organisation working to help people improve their quality of life. You’ve had this situation in Africa over the past 30 to 40 years that has shown that sometimes we need to become an emergency relief organisation to deal with various crises that happen in Africa. This is evident by our founding in the 1970s, another drought that occurred in 1980s, political unrest that has occurred in countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Burundi -- in all those types of places Africare has been in the forefront. Even though we’ve participated in emergency assistance, we’ve always tried to switch back to development programmes in the long term because that’s what we feel is best for the people of Africa and that emergency relief is only a temporary expedient to achieve our development purpose.

AN: Are there particular situations that Africare will not allow itself to become involved in?

JEC: I think we have to look at each situation as it presents itself. There are some 54 countries in Africa and we’re only involved in 27 of them at the present time. We obviously look at our capabilities; we look at the problems and the needs within a particular country and where the needs match up with our capabilities. We don’t have the resources to work in all the countries so we must make some choices.

AN: When becoming involved in political unrest or conflicts, such as Sierra Leone, what is Africare’s policy on impartiality?

JEC: Africare is a private voluntary agency and we’re there to help the people. We don’t try to identify ourselves with a particular government or with a group of people. We’re there to meet a need and that’s the way we work. In countries where they don’t have civil strife, obviously we have to work through the government and also when we work at community level with the leaders that are involved.

AN: Is it difficult to maintain this impartiality?

JEC: It is. Obviously the governments there control what happens in their country. They’re going to put pressure on private voluntary agencies to be responsive to their needs and to what they want to have done. So I think that sometimes we have to exercise our own leverage to say what we can or cannot do, especially in some very difficult situations.

AN: So does Africare try to influence government policy?

JEC: We are basically a development organisation, and obviously if you’re working in development you have to have some influence on policy. There’s always a dialogue in terms of does the government have proper policies in place for our assistance to be effective that could involve a dialogue in terms of pricing policies in agricultural areas, it could involve pricing the products in the health area, government policies in terms of primary healthcare and how that is carried out, or how the government’s health system is organised?

AN: What difficulties do you face when dealing with an emergency?

JEC: In any disaster relief situation, I think the most difficult challenge is to get the food and other resources to the needy areas and to target assistance. There are always logistical problems: problems with transport, problems of communications or problems of personnel interacting with government and other agencies. Sometimes it can be a logistical nightmare.

AN: So how difficult is it to divert your available resources when a crisis actually happens?

JEC: Normally we have projects working overseas that are not necessarily geared up for emergencies so we have country representatives who will follow and monitor the situation but also what we have to do is hire people to help us to carry out emergency feeding programmes while we contract citizens of the particular country that we’re working in to augment our staff capacity to be able to handle the situation.

AN: What impact do you think the G8 summit’s Africa Action Plan will have on your work?

JEC: The talk about increased assistance to six billion dollars annually has raised some questions of whether the plan’s goals can be met. There are a lot of people within the private voluntary agency community that are questioning whether the assistance that’s being proposed at the Group of Eight meeting is adequate and I think that Africare would probably join those sentiments -- that we would like to see more aid and that the promises that were made at the meeting were helpful in terms of increasing funds for Africa, but they are not sufficient to meet Africa’s needs.

AN: Where do you see Africare going in the next year?

JEC: We’re giving a great deal to the whole question of the AIDS crisis in Africa. We have launched a new programme in several African countries to help organise volunteers to carry out an HIV/AIDS community education programme. We’re going to be spending a lot of resources in the future just launching that programme in as many African countries as we can.

KL: We’ve been working for the last three years on our HIV/AIDS strategy in southern Africa, really focused on community-based initiatives, identifying people in groups, in villages, in other community levels who are already doing something to address HIV/AIDS related issues and finding out which of these approaches are effective and how they can be strengthened, replicated and implemented throughout the region. We feel we’ve had quite a bit of success in this regard – especially in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and South Africa where we’ve had funding from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a variety of other private sources in particular and our premise has been validated. We’ve discovered that if you go into the villages and other communities in these countries you will find people trying to do something and very often doing some very innovative, very courageous things. We are hopeful that this sort of approach is having an impact on getting young people especially to change their behaviour. We’re trying in particular to determine what works best to change behaviour among adolescent and even pre-adolescent youth.

AN: What have you found so far?

KL: We’ve seen some hopeful signs in Zambia as an example, and Zimbabwe, that young people are in fact changing their behaviour by practising safer sex or not engaging in sex at all, by postponing the ‘age of debut’. It’s hard to document this in very scientific terms at this stage so we have to be a bit cautious how far we take this, but as I say there are some indications, especially in Zambia that this is beginning to take place.

JEC: Another thing that we’re also giving a great deal of attention to is to take AIDS programmes and work them into other development programmes: incorporating AIDS programmes into agricultural programmes, into health programmes and into other micro-enterprise programmes to help to begin to confront this pandemic.

This is so much of an integral and important part of development that we thought it was important enough to incorporate it into all our development programmes and we’re going to be doing this across all of our projects in Africa.

AN: How have people reacted to the AIDS crisis and the possibility that behaviour has to change?

JEC: I think what experience has shown is that in the beginning Africans were very reticent to talk about the AIDS crisis and to deal with it, but over a period of time as the crisis has become a pandemic in Africa -- the incidence has risen to levels of five percent in some countries and up to 15-25 percent in other countries, I think they recognise that there is a crisis that has to be dealt with and they’re much more open to discuss and to design programmes to be able to actually confront the AIDS problem. At village level and at all levels now there is discussion about this pandemic.

Website: http://www.africare.org

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