GSSW Looks at African AIDS/HIV Efforts

GSSW Looks at African AIDS/HIV Efforts

By Sean Smith
Chronicle Editor

A new Graduate School of Social Work summer course on human services in developing countries will include a three-week trip to Uganda, where students will work with a pioneering African AIDS/HIV agency.

Assoc. Prof. Hugo Kamya (GSSW) talks with students Jennifer Mills (left) and Maureen Woodson, who will be visiting Uganda along with Kamya and other Graduate School of Social Work representatives. (Photo by Justin Knight)
Eight students are enrolled in the course, which is being directed by Assoc. Prof. Hugo Kamya and Continuing Education Director Vincent Lynch, founder and co-organizer of a landmark national conference on social work and HIV/AIDS that will have its 15th anniversary this year.

The GSSW contingent will be in Uganda from July 10-Aug. 1, during which time they will visit clinics, agencies and other organizations and individuals serving HIV/AIDS sufferers. Their primary contacts will be The AIDS Support Organization, or TASO, which provides personal and family counseling, preventative education and other resources.

Organizers say that the trip to Uganda is intended as a learning experience for visitors and hosts alike.

"They are certainly eager to learn from us, and would like to build a collaboration for the future," said Kamya. "Besides getting insights into the clinical aspects of social work, they are hoping to have us help them sift through data that has been collected in relation to HIV/AIDS in Uganda.

"But this project is a two-way street," he added. "It is not simply a group of people from BC going abroad to help others. There is much we can learn as well."

Kamya and other project participants note that, on a continent with a well-documented HIV/AIDS epidemic, Uganda's rate of AIDS/HIV infection has significantly decreased - by as much as 10 percent - in the past decade. The education and outreach efforts of TASO are among the factors seen as contributing to this decline, say the GSSW representatives.

"One of the ongoing interests at GSSW is the promotion of self-sufficiency, social integration and social change in developing countries," said Lynch. "What methods work, and why? And what can their successes teach us, in turn?"

Kamya and Lynch cite several TASO initiatives that are regarded as effective, such as encouraging the use of traditional healing strategies in concert with modern biomedical procedures. Another TASO program provides support for the growing numbers of teenagers thrust into parental roles in families affected by HIV/AIDS.

TASO also has helped HIV/AIDS sufferers start small businesses, Kamya said, creating a double benefit in the process. "It is a way of making the clients feel productive, which is an important psychosocial outcome. At the same time, this initiative also has the potential of aiding the local economy."

The GSSW course includes discussions of historical, cultural and socioeconomic characteristics of Uganda, to give students a context in which to work and observe.

Second-year GSSW student Alison Schneider, who is enrolled in the course, said her recent experience as a nanny for two Ethiopian orphans has intensified her longstanding curiosity about Africa, and added a professional dimension to her interest.

"One of the areas we'll be examining is the effect of AIDS/HIV on orphanages," she said. "I think this is a great opportunity to build on what I've learned both inside and outside of the classroom."

The project promises to be equally enlightening for Jennifer Anderton, whose background includes volunteering for the AIDS Action Committee as well as assisting Lynch in organizing the annual AIDS/HIV conference.

"I expect to gain a lot from this course. The social work profession is facing increased challenges in dealing with the impact of AIDS/HIV, and we therefore need to share our expertise and ideas - not just in the US but around the world."


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