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Peer Educators Come Together for the Last Training of 2017

A peer educator offers a potential solution to a challenge another has voiced.

On Friday, November 17, over 100 peer educators attended a capacity building session at Alive Medical Services (AMS).

Every quarter, peer educators attend these half-day events, which aim to track progress, dissect challenges, and set goals for the future. Once a client becomes a peer educator, they are charged with referring and visiting eight potential or current clients per month, increasing their communities’ access to free HIV testing and care.

“My husband died because of AIDS, and I never knew,” said Eva, a peer educator. “I always felt like if I had known – if he had told me – we could have avoided his death. I became a peer educator because of that, and to show others that being HIV positive doesn’t mean life can’t go on.”

From 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., AMS staff engaged the peer educators in several different sessions. To evaluate the impact of their home visits and referrals, monitoring and evaluation officials went over the groups’ recorded progress. In addition, peer educators voiced the challenges they were facing in their work, sparking conversation about recent successes and setbacks.

One of the challenges highlighted by peer educators was the fact that oftentimes, members of their communities will ask the peer educators to accompany them to the clinic on their first visit. Such accompaniment makes it easier for new clients to locate AMS and feel more comfortable in a new setting – but sometimes, this is not financially feasible for the peer educators.

After discussing the issue and the frequency of such requests, the peer educators came to two solutions: the first, writing out clear directions and detailed instructions of where to go and what to expect when locating the clinic; and the second, to reach out to AMS for transport reimbursement if accompaniment is essential to getting a community member to the clinic.

“Peer educators are instrumental to the comprehensive health care we provide at AMS,” said Geoffrey Nsabimana, a clinical officer at AMS. “These trainings increase peer educators’ skills, and because of that, help them bring in more clients.”

Many of those who attended the training have been peer educators since the program’s launch in 2014. Their experiences – along with their continued attendance at trainings like this one – provided insight for new peer educators, helping the latter navigate their roles and learn how to deal with unexpected challenges.

“AMS is always growing,” said Olivia, a community health worker at AMS. “The capacity building trainings help peer educators manage increased client loads. They also give peer educators a chance to encourage and support each other.”

Later, AMS doctors led a session on the differentiated service delivery model (DSDM). Though this model has been in place at AMS for several years, the clinic is currently looking for ways to strengthen its implementation. By engaging peer educators in this process, AMS will be able to provide DSDM not only at a clinic level, but on a community level too.

“I’ve been a client at AMS since 2007, and I’ve always been treated well,” said Samuel, another peer educator. “I became a peer educator to spread the news about AMS. People in my community don’t realize they provide free services, but I know that if we keep talking, we can reduce the number of people who are getting HIV.”

The next peer educator capacity building training will take place next quarter. In the meantime, the group will go about their monthly duties, expanding AMS’ reach and continuing to educate their communities on HIV/AIDS.

“Peer educators help us to help others,” Olivia said. “Reaching clients is not something we can do alone.”

Irene and Mable pose for a photo at AMS’ peer educator capacity building training. Both women first became peer educators in 2015. “We became peer educators because we wanted to set an example for others,” Mable said. “There are so many HIV positive people in our communities that are not getting treatment because they fear the stigma. We want to help them.”