To mark World Aids Day on 1 December, Martin Vieira from our Research and Impact team explains how Send a Cow's social development work is helping HIV positive people overcome fear and stigma.

We arrived at the Kica Ber group in Gulu, northern Uganda, on a rainy afternoon, as part of a social development workshop for Send a Cow staff from across Africa. Kica Ber is a group for people living with HIV/Aids founded in 2007. Its name means ‘Mercy is Good’. Originally it had eight members, but today is 65 members strong, 44 of whom are women.

We asked them about their lives before working with Send a Cow, and my heart grew heavy as we listened to the same statements over and over. “We used to talk about ourselves as walking corpses”; “We did not plant many seeds because we knew we were going to die.” They also faced discrimination from their neighbours and the wider community, who would not even buy their produce for fear it was ‘infected’ with HIV.

The group was counselled by social development staff, and given training on livestock management and sustainable agriculture. The first things to change were attitudes. Social development training gave Kica Ber members reason to believe that they were not alone, that living with HIV/AIDS does not mean that you are going to die or that you deserve discrimination. The group engaged in drama (theatre, singing, acting) to raise awareness; to encourage people to ‘come out’ about being HIV positive; to help people to protect themselves; and to encourage listeners to get tested.

As the group grew, so did its achievements. They started giving personal counselling to their neighbours. Now, they can sell their produce in their community, because they have shared their knowledge about HIV/Aids and built friendships. They even give out vegetables to neighbours in need. They have also started a village savings and credit association, meaning they are no longer reliant on loan sharks.

When we arrived, while the rain was pouring down, we were served one of the most memorable meals I have ever eaten. Imagine 15 different pots filled with different kinds of meat, vegetables, roots, rice, maize and fruit, all cooked to perfection and served with much gratitude and care. After lunch, we had the privilege of witnessing one of the group’s musical performances, which had many of our staff up and dancing with them.

The story of Kica Ber is a powerful example of why Send a Cow has such a deep and meaningful impact. We are not there for a quick fix. We offer a listening ear and an open mind, and the social support that poor people need to turn their lives around. Because getting out of poverty does not begin in the wallet, but in the mind.