The Aboke HIV/AIDS Women’s Association (AHWA) was founded by women in the community who were living with HIV and/or caring for the orphaned children of family and neighbours. The founding members worked around Aboke High School in the Aboke Sub-county of Kole District in Northern Uganda. They were concerned with the immense burden of HIV/AIDS in their community, especially on the orphans and their caregivers. Although they operated for many years without a budget, all the members volunteered their time and their money to educate community members about HIV/AIDS and to provide counseling, care and support for each other. For people living with HIV/AIDS and for orphaned children, the members would often bring food from their own gardens to help provide for their basic needs.
At the time of its inception in 2003, the insurgency in Northern Uganda had created several internally displaced persons camps including one in Aboke Sub-county. The camps intensified the HIV prevalence rates in the community. Having recognized this, the members of AHWA would go into the camps to education people about HIV. When the violence in the area dropped off, people remained in the camps because they were dependent on the food aid they were provided. AHWA again went into the camp to counsel and support people in their resettlement.
AHWA partnered with CAP AIDS on a bicycle distribution project. The bikes that the members of AHWA received were used to reach more families within Aboke sub-county. Every one of the 22 members are responsible for visiting HIV affected households within the five parishes of the sub-county. Prior to the bike project, AHWA could not reach every household, but with the bikes, members are able to make a visit every month to all the households affected by HIV in the sub-county, and effectively monitor the health and well being of those households.
In addition to HIV affected households, AHWA in collaboration with CAP AIDS has also supported the vulnerable youth in the sub-county who have dropped out of school after losing one or both of their parents. AHWA and CAP AIDS launched a Sustainable Livelihoods Project which provided vulnerable youth with vocational training, business skills and empowerment. Orphaned youth were trained as tailors, carpenters and construction workers. Other youth were given startup capital and business training to start their own businesses either rearing pigs or operating a local grinding mill. The members of AHWA, who are caregivers for orphaned children, were supported with startup capital in the form of livestock or crops with which they have produced a sustainable livelihood to support the children they care for. Furthermore, all the beneficiaries, including the members of AHWA were trained with basic HIV life skills and this knowledge has contributed to the counseling and care that members offer to the community.
The members of AHWA continue to visit their patients and every month they discuss the health status of the community. They are a formidable group of women and a few men who are truly dedicated to their work in educating their community and caring for the orphaned children. Their hope is to create more opportunities for these children and the young people in their community by giving them the knowledge to prevent the spread of HIV and by empowering them with skills to earn sustainable livelihoods in the future.