Since 2004, Positive Vibes has developed a niche working with self-help groups of PLHIV, their children, and other community-based HIV initiatives. The methods developed and adapted by Positive Vibes were designed specifically to promote the meaningful involvement of people living with and affected by HIV, and there by promote personal and social change. Such transformation has been elusive in the HIV response until now, the response having focussed on top-down, government and donor driven efforts that have, by and large, by-passed PLHIV and our families at a grassroots level. Positive Vibes’ achieved clear success in facilitating the meaningful involvement of PLHIV at this level.
The underpinning idea of Positive Vibes work is Paulo Freire’s concept of conscientisation. The concept was developed as a reaction to the pedagogical approach of the 1950s, which was defined by didactic and fact-based approaches to education. Freire was a vocal critic of the entrenched, static education paradigm which he considered potential tools of oppression – in Namibia the Apartheid Bantu Education model is a case in point. The idea of Conscientization was to move beyond such prevailing traditions in education by allowing those being ‘educated’ to be part of the process of learning, thus making it real and relevant to their context.
Arlene Goldbard explained in the following terms: “Conscientization means breaking through prevailing mythologies to reach new levels of awareness - in particular, awareness of oppression, being an "object" of others’ will rather than a self-determining "subject…The process of conscientization involves identifying contradictions in experience through dialogue and becoming part of the process of changing the world” (2006)
In applying this method PV has managed to achieve very good results. Van Zyl et al (2009) found that, when applied within HIV support groups, the Freireian Process help to rebuild the self-esteem of PLHIV. This, in turn, appears to better enable PLHIV to disclose to their partners, to practice safer sex, and to adhere to HIV medication (Ibid), all of which reduce significantly the risks of infecting others.
Moreover, an independent review (Boyd: 2009) found that our application of the Inside-Out process, together with organisational development processes and small grants tailored for community-based self-help groups, has formed a “chain of action” that empowers socially active individuals and groups of PLHIV to “push back” stigma and discrimination in their own and neighbouring communities. Positive Vibes, argues Boyd, has “built an essential bridge between local decision-makers/administrators and community-based HIV and AIDS groups” (Ibid). As a result, “non-confrontational, low-level advocacy has unfolded new channels for communication and awareness-raising with local government”, particularly around service delivery (Ibid). Furthermore, Boyd found that self-help groups supported by PV also took the initiative to adapt and apply the same methods to mobilise other PLHIV in neighbouring communities, thereby initiating a grassroots social movement driven by PLHIV.
An external review conducted by Auriol Ashby in 2013 confirms the previous findings about the PV model. In the final report she notes that “support group members have changed their view that HIV “was a death sentence” to realising that they can take responsibility to act positively to live healthy, active lives. From the knowledge and confidence they have gained at the PV workshops, SG members claim to have reduced the number of their sexual partners, “have condomised” and have reduced their alcohol consumption. They report that stigma is beginning to decrease in the communities, and cite the outreach activities and community leaders’ workshops as contributory factors. Thus we can conclude that the project has achieved its specific objective that support group members have improved self-efficacy, self-reliance and voice.
Positive Vibes traces its roots to the late 1960s when a handful of Danish students, met to decide the future of the local chapter of the World University Service (Wus-Denmark). With a majority of two votes, it was decided that WUS-DK should work in solidarity with the emerging independence movements in Africa. Throughout the 1970s and 80s, WUS worked with ANC, MPLA, SWAPO and other such movements, assisting them with educational and medical needs.
By about 1990, most of the liberation struggles in Africa had been won, and WUS-DK made the decision to change from being a solidarity organisation to a development organisation focussing on education. This resulting in the de-linking from the former independence movements, now political parties, and setting up field structures in the respective countries. WUS-DK changed its name to IBIS at the same time.
In 2001, IBIS in Namibia decided to start its HIV programme as result of the visible erosion of its work due to the growing epidemic. Instead of simply replicating what other, larger organisations were doing, IBIS-Namibia decided to seek inspiration from the South Africa work of Interfund who was collaborating with an HIV positive consultant, Peter Busse. Peter had designed a special workplace programme, called AIDS and Development, for organisations working in the field of HIV. His concept of ‘personalisation’, meaning that the abstract be made real and personal through a number of simple, interactive activities, galvanised IBIS-Namibia around HIV and resulted in true mainstreaming of HIV across all programmes and projects.
As a result, IBIS decided that Peter Busse’s workshop and general approach covered a particular niche missing from the Namibian response, namely participatory training on HIV issues that allowed participants to personalise the often abstract and complex issues. With Peter’s blessing PV piloted his approach in the country and gradually started to bring on board other, similar approaches and methods. By 2004 the ‘Victims to Victors’ programme took off, making extensive use of newly developed or appropriated methods. The target groups included workplaces (mainly NGOs) and, as something new in the country, had a serious focus on positive prevention, i.e. working with PLHIV with a strong rights based approach.
Up until the end of 2008, IBIS-Namibia successfully developed, piloted and rolled out various methods to great effect. When the work started in 2001/2 there were only a handful of support groups and people living openly with HIV, whereas in 2012 there are now many hundred groups and many thousands of people openly living with the disease.
Unfortunately, IBIS was forced to pull out of Namibia starting 2007 as a result of the somewhat misleading upper-middle income label that Namibia has been saddled with, which meant that Danish aid funds could no longer be used to support the development of Namibia. For the HIV programme, this decision threatened to close the organisation and to loose the momentum built up over the previous years. However the management and staff of the HIV program decided to continue the work and from 2007 PV started operating as a semi-autonomous unit under Ibis, becoming a fully Namibian Trust in late 2008.
Sitting alone in a remote corner of South-Western Africa and having a range of methodologies and approaches that PV believed could have much wider use, the management team very early on understood the need for national and international collaborative work that allowed broader access to knowledge, experiences and resources. Such collaborative efforts also gave PV potential outlets for its methodologies. Since 2007 developing such collaborations has been a core strategy.
Initially a close funding cooperation was developed with Hivos, later leading to a much more strategic alliance predominantly around capacity development for emerging LGBTI organisations in the region. Related to this partnership, PV later joined in a broader Alliance, of regional organisations. The DiDiRi Collective (comprising Hivos, Arasa, PV and COC), which jointly implements an integrated LGBTI Rights programme across 10 countries in Southern Africa. In early 2012 PV joined a larger international “family”, joining the International HIV/AIDS Alliance with whom PV shares values, visions and approaches. PV
In the coming years PV hopes to continue its positive trajectory. From mainly seeing itself as an “end-recipient” national NGO focused on HIV, PV has repositioned itself to be a regional, intermediary, project implementation and capacity building organisation and has expanded its focus to also include LGBTI people and organisations. It is envisaged that this development will be consolidated and continue while maintaining a core operation and special site of practice in Namibia.
While the organisational structure, geography and scope of work is changing, the core values of rights and solidarity and the working modality of working directly with social movements of PLHIV and LGBTI is in direct continuation of the “liberation movement tradition” and there is a clear line from the struggle against apartheid to the struggle for PLHIV and LGBTI rights.