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Improving the Skills of Peer Educators for Greater Impact

Hi Rwanda Peer Ed Story TA-NPI
“We target people who are blind because we know they have been left behind in HIV messaging.”— Consolatrice Niyibizi, peer education trainer, Rwanda Union for the Blind (RUB)

Promoting HIV awareness and behavior change is a difficult task. But reaching people with disabilities with these messages is even harder. This population is often excluded from mainstream society and many people believe that they have no need for HIV education and services.

Consolatrice Niyibizi is a blind peer education trainer with the Rwanda Union for the Blind. She knows firsthand how dangerous this way of thinking is because people with disabilities are often at greater risk for contracting HIV.

"Many people with disabilities rely on family or caregivers to help them with everyday tasks and are very dependent," she says.

Sadly, there are many cases of abuse from caregivers, putting people with disabilities at increased risk for HIV infection from sexual assaults and certain cleansing rituals. In addition, tremendous stigma surrounds sexuality for people with disabilities—they are often perceived as not sexually active. Whether through abuse or consensual relationships, people with disabilities are at risk for HIV infection, and thus in need of prevention information.

Since 1982, Handicap International has promoted the rights of people with disabilities. The organization opened its office in Rwanda in 1994. In 2008,
Handicap International Rwanda received a PEPFAR New Partners Initiative (NPI) grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to target HIV prevention messages and services to people with disabilities. In conjunction with this grant, Handicap International Rwanda also received technical assistance
to strengthen its management and programmatic systems for working with a network of sub-partners representing specific forms of disabilities.

To target people with disabilities, such as the blind, with HIV messages and services, TA-NPI worked with Handicap International's staff to establish measures of program quality and the tools to monitor them. "The training included national standards for trainers and peer educators," says Gallican Mugabonake, Handicap International Rwanda HIV and AIDS project coordinator. "We have now integrated this information into all disability trainings."

As a partner of Handicap International Rwanda, Rwanda Union for the Blind previously received support for gender mainstreaming and HIV awareness. However, it wasn't until TA-NPI's support through the NPI grant that Rwanda Union for the Blind trainers like Consolatrice were given specialized support in how to train people with disabilities.

"I was taught to train other persons with visual impairment," she says, "and have now trained visually impaired peer education trainers from eight districts on issues around HIV and disability."

This specialized training reviewed national behavior change communication guidelines and message development for the blind, and the information, education, and communication materials that are available."I now better understand the factors that influence people with disabilities becoming infected with HIV," says Consolatrice.

While the additional training Consolatrice received reinforced her basic knowledge of HIV, most importantly, it focused on reaching the blind with appropriate HIV messages and tools. "Something that helps me train others is the Braille training manual I received. This unique manual helps me conduct the peer educator trainings," she says.

In addition, TA-NPI worked with trainers from Handicap International Rwanda and Rwanda Union for the Blind to develop referral networks to help visually impaired people access much-needed HIV information and services. TA-NPI's assistance with building these networks, coupled with training support for visually impaired HIV peer educators, has helped to bring appropriate and accessible HIV information and services to visually impaired Rwandans.

"The fact that our blind community now has access to HIV information and counseling and testing, can lead to a new vision for the future," says Consolatrice."They know they have access to these services and can now plan the future accordingly." Furthermore, blind people seeking HIV information feel they now have a trusted and respectful source. "They listen to the peer educators and open their hearts to them because they experience the same problem—blindness."

With PEPFAR support, Handicap
International Rwanda will reach 60,000
people with disabilities and 180,000
community members with prevention
messages, and expand care and support
services to include 1,000 HIV-positive
people and 200 orphans and vulnerable
children with disabilities by the end of the
NPI grant.

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