Sheik Hammad has become a huge advocate of HIV/AIDS education within his community. People like him are being trained throughout Ethiopia to promote education and prevent the spread of HIV.

By Maggie Farrand

Sheikh Hammad Hadji Muhammad is treating the spread of HIV and AIDS in his Ethiopian village with coffee. And the treatment is working.

As an elder and an imam, Sheikh Hammad holds a place of honor in his village and at the coffee ceremonies that are central to its social life.

He is using that level of honor from his villagers to bring real issues to their regular coffee ceremonies; most importantly, HIV/AIDS.

“Before, we were embarrassed to talk about sexuality, but now we speak openly about it,” Sheikh Hammad says.

Through the Ethiopian Sustainable Tourism Alliance, community members are trained as peer educators. Once trained, they invite fellow residents to weekly coffee ceremonies so that they can hand out information and discuss sensitive subjects like HIV/AIDS.

“[Before ESTA] there was no awareness of HIV way of transmission, and there was great discrimination among the people who are living with the virus,” says Addisu Yacob, Counterpart’s HIV/AIDS Prevention Coordinator.

Today people throughout the Central and Southern Rift Valley of Ethiopia are more aware of the disease – its symptoms, how its spread and what one can do to prevent contraction.

Sheikh Hammad is an advocate of ESTA’s work on AIDS.

“HIV and AIDS is an issue that is integrated into problems that religion tries to address,” he says. “Like our religion says, do not look at other women besides your wife. If we men are intimate with other women, we break the bonds of marriage and can bring disease into our families.”

The coffee ceremonies are a perfect opportunity for community members to come together and erase the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.

“Within this half an hour or an hour, we can just teach about HIV/AIDS and create awareness in the community,” says Yacob. ESTA reached more than 50,000 people in 2011 with prevention and education messages.

Sheik Hammad is right: “We need to discuss with our families so that we can stop the spread of this virus. The time to start talking about this is now.”

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