EHAIA, an African initiative going beyond Africa

Participants of the Bread for the World staff training (Pic courtesy WCC)

The Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiative in Africa (EHAIA) has recently documented the impact it has achieved since 2002. While commemorating its 10th anniversary this year, EHAIA reflects on how churches have become “HIV-competent”, meaning they are well informed about HIV, are welcoming HIV positive people and are fighting against HIV and AIDS in Africa and beyond.

Thousands of church leaders have been trained by EHAIA staff. Ten theological institutions in Central Africa alone incorporated HIV into their curricula due to EHAIA supported initiatives. Several books with theological perspectives on HIV and gender were written by EHAIA staff in the last ten years and are used widely around the world.

With innovative approaches and dedicated staff, EHAIA has managed to break the taboos and to start talking about sexuality, gender relations and related violence, issues that are delicate even outside the churches.

By using the powerful tool of contextual Bible studies from the text such as the story of Tamar (2 Samuel 13) EHAIA has brought out perspectives of women and men on issues like rape and discussed these issues with women and men in their own social context. EHAIA has also been sensitive not to see men merely as “perpetrators” but to create safe spaces for men to discuss what role models they grew up with, their relationships with their fathers, their lives and interaction with women.

EHAIA runs several masculinity workshops. These help men to get on board in responding to HIV in a meaningful way. This approach has created an impact beyond church circles. As a part of this initiative, prisons in Lesotho hold trainings on masculinity, transforming men’s behaviours by helping them think differently.

From Africa, the impact of EHAIA’s work extends to the rest of the world. In many countries EHAIA staff has been invited to share their perspectives. Prof. Ezra Chitando, theological consultant for EHAIA, was invited to the University of Oslo in Norway to present a paper on masculinity. There he met with students who worked on masculinity issues and were using EHAIA’s publications. EHAIA’s theology curriculum on HIV was also adapted in India and Jamaica.

At a training seminar on HIV, gender and domestic violence organized by Bread for the World in Germany in January this year, EHAIA coordinator Rev. Dr Nyambura Njoroge explained EHAIA’s approach in presenting the Tamar Campaign. At the training, around thirty participants analyzed the biblical text and discussed the impact of HIV in their own communities. They also expressed their commitment to introduce EHAIA’s approach to other organizations and networks.

Raising awareness on HIV

In December last year, Hendrew Lusey, EHAIA’s regional coordinator for Central Africa, was the guest speaker on World AIDS Day in Helsinki, Finland, having been invited by the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission.

Rev. Dr Charles Klagba, EHAIA’s theological consultant, took part in the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Jamaica in May last year. There he presented the issues of gender-based violence and the churches’ response, introducing contextual Bible study.

During the convocation, safe spaces were created to discuss sexuality and HIV, led by a woman from the Philippines who referred to EHAIA as a “source of inspiration to the churches”. In the first draft of the communiqué An Ecumenical Call to Just Peace there was no mention of gender-based violence or sexuality. Due to the intervention by this group, this particular concern was incorporated in the document.

Dr Susan Parry, EHAIA’s regional coordinator for Southern Africa, was invited to share her insights from experiences in India and Burma. There, she interacted with representatives from Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, India, Thailand and Bangladesh, countries faced with a growing HIV epidemic.

The Asian participants showed immense interest in the WCC publication Beacons of Hope, authored by Parry. Sections of this book have been translated into eight languages. The Christian Conference of Asia used the book as basis for their own publication "Building HIV Competent Churches: Called to prophesy, reconcile and heal”.

With the approach of the WCC 10th Assembly at Busan, Korea in 2013, EHAIA hopes to inspire churches in Asia and around the world to tackle issues of HIV, gender and sexuality creatively and competently. Given the positive impact EHAIA has already achieved, the staff and partners of EHAIA would like to see EHAIA’s approach being taken up by more churches, religious and secular institutions around the world, and EHAIA is committed to play its part in spreading the message farther.

(This story was provided and used with permission by the World Council of Churches.)