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Opening up

A story of Local Response by Luc from the Constellation

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In 2012, I facilitated a discussion around HIV in an UN office in Tanzania. This was part of a learning programme supported by UNAIDS in order to increase knowledge and change attitudes of the UN Staff with regard to HIV and AIDS. These discussions were around the 10 practices of the initial AIDS Competence Self-Assessment tool. This particular discussion took place in the ILO office and most of the staff were present, including the Representative, Chief of Staff and Human Resource Director.

People started in small group discussions and then group presented their conclusions in plenary where they could explain why they ranked the ILO Office at a given level in the Self-Assessment. Questions and answers followed each presentation of a level on one of the practice. Many questions and explanations were given with regard to HIV and AIDS, and it was an opportunity for staff to express their concerns, knowledge or lack of knowledge around these issues. Stigmatisation was stigmatized and inclusion of PLHIV expressed through the participation of the UNAIDS GIPA officer (GIPA = Greater Involvement of People living with AIDS).

The session lasted more than 3 hours which was a real achievement as it meant that we had kept most of the staff (including programme officers) out of their office and away from their e-mail during that time. This could be considered as an indication of the interest of the discussions among the staff. Discussions were frank and clear, based on real experiences and facts that people could confirm and witness. They were also appreciative.

As usual, towards the end of the session, we asked participants to say a word to reflect how they felt about the day. During this reflection, one of the office drivers stood up and disclosed his positive sero-status in front of his colleagues and, more importantly, in front of the Human Resource Director. He explained that the discussions during the past three hours makes him confident that his colleagues were now ready to accept the fact that they had a HIV + colleague. Such disclosure after a simple session with UN Staff makes me cry and revealed the power of dialogue and true, frank appreciative discussions. Also we could see that the staff appreciated the respect and consideration given to PLHIV like him. The disclosure gives sense to the whole exercise.

When people were convinced that we would have an open and honest conversation, we began to build trust.

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