Background of the Organization (EIFDDA)
The Ethiopian Interfaith Forum for Development Dialogue and Action (EIFDDA) is a non-governmental organization which is established as faith based network in 2003 and legally registered in 2006. It has nine actively involving member faith based organizations representing major religions in Ethiopia. Since its establishment EIFDDA has been playing significant and leading role in bringing different religious groups on board to development dialogue and action. Currently it has three thematic areas of intervention, namely HIV and AIDS, Good Governance and Peace building.
ETNERELA + is the Ethiopian Network of Religious leaders living with or personally affected by HIV and AIDS; the objective of our Network is to establish highly effective networks across the nation that links religious leaders living with or personally affected by HIV and AIDS.
The network supports its members to use their empowered HIV status to reach out to their immediate faith communities for enhanced prevention, care, support, treatment and behaviour change intervention.
Establishment of a national network
Five fellowships have been established in Hawassa, Addis Ababa, Mekele and Bahir Dar cities. The network is growing in membership and has one volunteer staff currently.
Attempts to register with the Ministry of Justice led to a suggestion that ETNERELA+ does not comply with the religious criteria of “Religious Leaders”. There have been suggestions on a number of names but some faith communities do not concur. The organisation has been given notice by the Ministry of Justice to change its name.
There is a lot of stigma, shame, discrimination, denial, inaction and misaction related to HIV and AIDS in Ethiopia. This has been attributed to the cultural practices of some people in Ethiopia where sex and sexuality topics are not discussed in the openly. As a result HIV prevalence is on the rise and PLHIV including religious leaders living with HIV and AIDS are discouraged from disclosing their status.
Below is testimony of the high level of stigma, shame denial and discrimination and challenges that religious leaders face:
“And amazingly now in July 23 in 2009 we found an evangelical church leader saying that at here in Hawassa in Mekaneyesus Church we do have HIV positive church members, but I have never found HIV positive religious leader and if any evangelical religious leader (pastor, reverend and evangelist) in Hawassa Mekaneyesus said that I am HIV positive religious leader he is a liar. We can see from this, there is high level of denial when it comes to HIV+ religious leader. Another challenge which was observed so far is the capacity of our members which renders them incompetent to cope up with the cultural and religious challenges. Some of our members need a thorough training on positive living and means of coping up mechanisms.”
The way forward
Despite the challenges members of the network in Ethiopia are looking forward to being agents of change in their communities and the nation as a whole through advocacy and lobby for anti-SSDDIM and adoption of the SAVE approach. This is being achieved through partnership with existing networks of PLHIV both at national and grass root level to ensure efficacy in messaging and action.
1. The Role of Religious Leaders in Ethiopia’s Struggle against HIV and AIDS
Most of HIV positive people still are living in fear to disclose their status due to stigma and discrimination which are worse among religious communities. And the religious leaders should be good advocates for the reduction of stigma, access for ART and importance of VCT. The religious leaders should be able to break the culture of silence & secrecy which promote stigma and discrimination and encourage open discussions about HIV and AIDS for promotion of quality of life.
2. Fight for Social justice to halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV
Social injustices such as gender inequality, sexual, ethnic, and racial and age related discrimination fuel high HIV prevalence. Consequently, the most discriminated, marginalized and powerless members of our world such as the poor, sex workers and sexual abuse are the most likely to get infected. Once the marginalized get infected with HIV circle of infection becomes vicious and needs comprehensive interventions to break due to poor nutrition, poor access to medication, care and support structure, coupled with both self and societal stigma. Nonetheless, religious leaders have advantage in reaching out to people living with HIV as they seek for comfort and hope through their faith. This should be harnessed to bring hope and turn lives around hence breaking the vicious circle of HIV infection and social injustice.
3. Promote Attitudinal Change
The members of the network as agents of change envisage attitudinal change in their communities; as result of increased knowledge in methods of transmission of the virus, and management of HIV, from being judgmental to compassionate community, from ignorant to hope ambassadors and communities that have time and heart to hear the voices of the marginalized and excluded members such as PLHIV, OVCs and the poor. Together they are committed to greater, full and meaningful involvement of people living with HIV and AIDS.
Below is an affirmation by Religious Leaders members of ETNERELA+:
“What should be the Response of Faith community and community Members towards HIV and AIDS?
We shall remember, proclaim and act on the fact that our creator is a compassionate God, who calls us to be compassionate, to suffer with those who suffer, to enter their places and hearts of pain and to seek lasting change of their suffering. We shall, therefore, have zero tolerance for HIV&AIDS stigma and discrimination and do all that is necessary to eliminate the isolation, rejection, fear and oppression of the infected and affected in our communities. We shall declare HIV&AIDS stigma and discrimination an unacceptable sin before our creator and all believers and in all your communities.”
Quotes from Members of the network
“As an HIV+ religious leader we can offer a lot to our society; so every body should know that HIV/AIDS is something you can live with, not something you have to die from.”
ETNERELA+ National Coordinator Rev. Ayano Chule at July 22/2009.
“Because of HIV I lost my wife and my sight, but due to HIV I did not lose the love that I need from GOD. As HIV+ religious leader I would like to say this; one has to forgive him/herself no matter what our medical status says.”
An Orthodox Religious leader Melake Genet living with HIV, July 23/2009.
“Our biggest challenge is, many religious leaders are living with HIV/AIDS, but there is self denial due to fear of rejection, avoidance, stigma and discrimination and self denial about your HIV status will lead you to AIDS.“
Evangelist Yared, on July, 21/2009
“We should not be surprised of our brothers and sisters who are living with HIV virus; since the creation of the world we all human beings are living with the virus called sin.“
An Orthodox Religious Leader Melake Thehay in July, 22/2009.