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If you want to support the community, then you have to go and know the community.”

A story of Local Response by Nadine from UNAIDS of Botswana

I would like to talk about organisations who I think can lose a bit of understanding about what they are actually doing. When I was starting to work with CATCH in Botswana that was working together to control HIV I really appreciated how I, as a UNAIDS person, can go and learn from the community. Even in my first week when I was in Botswana, on my very first day, I was brought to a Kgotla in …… where I was told that I shouldn’t be wearing trousers, but a skirt. So right away I was learning about the traditional and cultural situation in Botswana. Without this ….., I would not have been able to learn.

Many times I was able to visit Kgotla meetings, community meetings, and thanks to translation from my friends, I was able to hear from the communities themselves, about what they see as their issues around HIV and around unemployment. For me that is a great, good fortune. And of course, I wanted to share that with my other organisational colleagues. Because many times, I know that what we do in the UN or USAID or in any of these big donor agencies is that we sit behind a computer and we try to think for a community that we actually never visited. We have our ideas. We have our understanding. We read papers. But we never go and ask them. Many times. Unfortunately. 

I was able to convince one of my colleagues to join one of the community meetings and he was so amazed. It was in …….It was a dream building session. It was a very engaged community and discussion. And one time one of the community members was saying, “The government should help us with this….” It was about education, I think. And then someone else stood up and said, “Let us not wait for the government. What can we do? I am sure that we can find a way.” So they discussed how they could help each other. It was something simple. But it would help them a lot in facilitating how their daily life worked. And they found a way to do that in that very meeting. And my colleague from another organisation was very grateful that he had joined. And whenever we have a CATCH meeting now, he would refer to that experience. So I am trying to get more people to come to visit the community. 

So what do you think that your friend learned from this visit? 

He was very surprised and happy to see how engaged a community could be, how they could take responsibility for certain issues. But I think that the whole conversation was a huge learning experience. There was so much that he could take out of the discussions around unemployment, HIV. There was a lot in the conversation from which we could learn. 

I would say, “If you want to support the community, then you have to go and know the community. Otherwise you will never really know if what you do really helps.”

"When we got to know the community, we found out what really helped them and we were able to support them."