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Personal blog by Cheryn Aouaj, Colorado College ’17

After being part of GlobeMed at Colorado College for two years, I finally had the opportunity to attend GROW and work with our partner organization in Mumias, Kenya. Through Power Points and lectures, the Western Organization for People Living with AIDS/HIV (WOPLAH) was a group that I heard about multiple times during member meetings. Sure, I knew the basics of the organization such as their ambition to assist and empower those living with HIV/AIDS and GlobeMed’s role in fundraising and helping WOPLAH reach sustainability. However, once I started working on the ground with WOPLAH, I noticed that I actually knew almost nothing about the organization. There was so much more to WOPLAH than what could be presented through pictures, videos, and discussions. As a member of GlobeMed, I felt a disconnect between our chapter and WOPLAH. There is a constant struggle in implementing new ways to lessen the gap between the two and as next year’s co-president, I hope to convey the power of WOPLAH more strongly to our chapter. Members might think that they have a solid understanding of their partner organization while sitting in a room on their college campus, but the real learning happens on the ground and that’s why GROW is so important and necessary.

GROW has granted me the life-changing opportunity to travel to a foreign country and learn the ins and outs of an organization that seemed so distant before. Through working with the program director, Edwin Wetoyi, and the rest of the WOPLAH team, known as the Ambassadors of Hope (AOH), this year’s GROW team and I have learned more about how the organization operates, who they serve, how successful they have been, and what they need to become more sustainable. During our time in Mumias, our team of three has been dedicated to working diligently in order to learn more about WOPLAH but also to provide our support, resources and backing to the organization. From monitoring and evaluation to the partnership action framework, we have assessed the strengths and weaknesses of each project that WOPLAH organizes along with our own partnership with WOPLAH.

Through interviews with support groups, discussions with the program coordinator, and field visits, I have learned how necessary of an organization WOPLAH is in the community. WOPLAH provides its beneficiaries with ample resources for self and economic empowerment through various programs such as kitchen gardens, village banking, community health dialogues, health trainings, goat and poultry rearing, and jiggers prevention. All of these projects are meant to enhance the living standards of positive people in Mumias by educating them on HIV/AIDS, providing income-generating activities, reducing stigma in the community, and establishing a network of support. The WOPLAH model is one that should be practiced across multiple communities in Kenya as it brings together community members and provides a platform for individuals to succeed.

I have also learned that as outsiders to the community, we have to be respectful and acknowledge the different ways of life here. For instance, people in Kenya are often laid back about matters and ‘take it easy’ instead of stressing over time, money, and resources. This became frustrating when trying to ‘help’ the community in whatever capacity we could as we were accustomed to a ‘time is money’ mentality. However, it’s important to take a step back as a visitor and understand that it is not your place to command these people or dictate how they get things done. All in all, this has been a productive internship for both WOPLAH and me personally. The key in strengthening any GlobeMed partnership is to encourage members to attend GROW and learn from the grassroots experience. I am excited to continue our partnership with WOPLAH and see how far they can go.

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