He is one of 30 activists from the National Association for Civil Humanitarian Development (known by the Portuguese acronym ANADHU) who use pedal-power to reach remote areas, where they give families door-to-door talks about HIV and AIDS and distribute condoms.
“We try to speak in local languages so that messages are well understood by the families, and we try to create a comfortable environment for the family to talk openly,” said ColaÃ§o. The initiative is part of a project that has been running since December 2008, funded by the United States Embassy in Mozambique.
The activists often use bananas to demonstrate using a condom, and pictures to illustrate modes of HIV transmission, so that people with a relatively low education level will understand the information more easily.
“Ignorance associated with illiteracy has unfortunately frustrated many actions aimed at combating HIV/AIDS in the countryside,” said AntÃ³nio Xavier Windo, the ANADHU supervisor in Caia. “This is why we give priority to dialogue and carry out the campaign as if it were a Bible study session.”
HIV prevalence in the districts of Caia, Marromeu and Gorongosa is high – about 21 percent of Caia’s 118,000 inhabitants are HIV-infected compared to a national average of 16 percent – and a 2005 study by the Ministry of Health found that teenagers were at greater risk of infection due to lack of knowledge about prevention methods, peer pressure and high-risk behaviours.
In Magagade village MÃ¡rio Tchica, 14, said he learned a lot from ColaÃ§o’s talk about how HIV is transmitted and prevented, but found it difficult to ask certain questions in the presence of his parents. “It was easier to ask about men’s issues, because if I asked about female issues, my parents would think that I was more interested in studying women,” he told IRIN/PlusNews.
A traditional ritual called ‘kupitakufa’, which obliges widows to have sex with the brother of their deceased husband – or even with someone “rented” for the purpose – in order to purify themselves, is thought to cause a large number of HIV infections in Mozambique.
The activists suggest safer alternatives: for example, in a new version of the ritual, called ‘kupitakufa-tchinda’, the widow gives some roots prepared by a traditional healer to a couple from her deceased husband’s family. The couple must have sex in close proximity to the roots, which the widow then rubs on her body, purifying her for a new marriage without having to engage in unprotected sex.
“This solution for purification is being widely publicised … and various people are already implementing it, but it’s still too early to tell if this has reduced infection rates,” said Windo.
ANADHU’s activists have reached 113 families in the villages of Caia; ColaÃ§o believes the grip of taboo has been loosened and there is more openness about HIV and AIDS.
“Sometimes we get the door slammed in our face, but fortunately more than 75 percent of the families we’ve approached have gathered and spoken openly about the disease,” he said. “I believe that little by little, there will be more openness.”
This feature is used with permission from IRIN/PlusNews – www.plusnews.org