Mor Mbengue, coordinates COSSEL (Senegalese committee of teacher unions for EFA and against AIDS) and is Deputy General Secretary of Senegalese union UDEN. During the 5th Francophone Conference on HIV and AIDS in Casablanca in late March he will present CARVEE (Committee of Action and Research on Vulnerability in the Education Sector) the initiative of COSSEL to stimulate and develop a network to support teachers living with HIV. He traces CARVEE’s establishment and its ongoing work.
How did you start the process of bringing together teachers living with HIV into a support network?
Over a two year period a small group of four people living with HIV conducted a survey across Senegal. By working in close contact doctors in the regions they were able to indentify around one hundred teachers living with HIV. Based on that, and with the support of EI, COSSEL worked in partnership with UNESCO-BREDA to establish the CARVEE association, the Committe of Action and Research on Vulnerability in the Education Sector. It was not easy as our first task was to convince our colleagues living with HIV to step out of the shadows, to come together and to contribute to combating AIDS. Assurances of confidentiality were an important part of this process. With the support of the Ministry of Education we issued a general invitation and from that, twenty-five teachers were happy to meet to participate in a meeting to set up CARVEE. Whilst it was a break-through we were sensitive of the need not to promote it as those involved were not comfortable with radio, television or newspaper coverage. While working to ensure confidentiality, it was the Minister of Education himself who opened the meeting in a session closed to media and three days of training ensued.
How did the workshop address the issues of teachers living with HIV?
During the first day, the participants were trained on the dynamics of cooperation as it was essential for all members of the group to be comfortable with working as a group. Previous to that many had been struggling alone. Some, three in fact, had even been forced to leave teaching, as they had problems with absenteeism and sickness, and so they were sanctioned or let go. Learning to work together was an important step forward. The second day we put in place the structure of CARVEE, creating a steering committee and an Executive Board of nine. Through the Committee all nine regions of Senegal are represented with a view to facilitating future activities. We envisaged that the survey would be built upon to bring together even more teaches as there are surely more than one hundred teachers living with HIV. However we need to convince them to come forward, to accept their status and to work together with us.
What challenges do teachers living with HIV face in Senegal and what are your hopes for future cooperation and development?
During the workshop, we talked about stigma, but above all about self-stigma, because after all they are caught up in this. They recognised that they have been self-discriminating and that before speaking out publically as AIDS advocates, that they must address this. Speaking out publically in the first year might prove too great a step, but there are many activities that can be carried out. For example, COSSEL plans to carry out workshops on the EFAIDS Toolkit for teachers living with HIV as has happened with the general teaching body. With regard to professional support, and concerned for the three teachers who had been dismissed, we worked with the Ministry of Education to have them reinstated. While as a teacher union we cannot address all the medical and social problems of our members, we are committed to expanding advocacy on these issues. Support on professional issues will remain at the heart of our work. Teachers need only to accept the process of taking ARVs as in Senegal they are free. But some teachers have difficulties as they may live some 500 to 700km from Dakar, and may not want to access local medical services due to confidentiality concerns. They prefer to make the journey to Dakar and this means that they may not be taking ARVs consistently. So on issues like this we are working to propose solutions so that they can regularly access medication.