In mid June the Rwandan union SYPERWA organised a 3 day workshop in Kicukiro, Rwanda which brought together 45 union trainers as well as 15 teachers living with HIV.
Two representatives of the Burundian union STEB attended to see firsthand how their Rwandan colleagues conduct training, and what strategies they have in place to include teachers living with HIV in union activities. They were also able to share experiences and gain skills that can benefit the Burundi EFAIDS Programme. Representatives of the Rwandan Ministry of Education (MINEDUC), the National AIDS Commission and the COTRAF Labour Centre to which SYPERWA is affiliated also participated in the workshop.
The representative of MINEDUC in charge of school-based health programmes highlighted the importance of voluntary testing for teachers so that they could benefit fully from health services and anti-retrovirals if necessary. MINEDUC is committed to promoting voluntary testing in the education sector and in partnership with SYPERWA recently carried out a campaign directed at teachers, directors and school inspectors. It is hoped that more testing will make teachers living with HIV a central part of the AIDS response, will lead teachers to form support networks and encourage them to fight against discrimination and stigmatisation at school.
The President of the Rwandan Network of People Living with AIDS (the RRP+) took up the theme of discrimination against people living with HIV, and urged teachers to know their HIV status and act responsibly to do their part to stop the spread of the virus. She also encouraged those who tested positive to get active in networks of people living with HIV. SYPERWA, together with Education Institute at the University of Kigali, is finalising research on discrimination and stigma faced by People living with HIV which will give them more information into how best to support HIV positive teachers so that they can continue teaching and living positively.
Closing the workshop, representatives of SYPERWA highlighted some important ways the union could move forward their work on HIV and AIDS. The significance of the saying ‘If you want to do something for me without me, you are against me’ was emphasised. In this way, people living with HIV need to be involved in all aspects of HIV and AIDS work.
Thanks to the experience of the Rwandan EFAIDS Programme, STEB is better placed to in turn advocate for a greater engagement of teachers living with HIV in Burundi. STEB has made the decision to meet with the Ministries of Public Health and of Education and WHO to promote voluntary testing and the involvement of HIV positive teachers in Burundi.
STEB is confident that it can mobilise its members to participate in voluntary testing thanks to its effective structure and the confidence its members place in it.