porti_namibiaAs the largest employer in Namibia, the Ministry of Education recognised the need to sensitise educational directors, managers and subject specialists across the country to HIV and AIDS and build a culture of workplace wellness within the Ministry. LifeLab was commissioned to design and implement a national intervention, which aimed to increase levels of awareness and disclosure, and encourage ART uptake. The national rollout was co-ordinated by the HIV and AIDS Management Unit (HAMU) and aligned o the National Policy on HIV and AIDS. By targeting educational managers, the Ministry aimed to create a workplace environment in which teachers and learners were able to more effectively address issues pertaining to HIV and AIDS and other chronic manageable diseases.

Approximately 60-80 directors, educational managers and subject specialists were trained in each of the 13 educational regions across Namibia between 2005 and 2007. This was a diverse rollout that spanned both urban and rural contexts and included delegates from almost every cultural group in Namibia. Evaluation from the central regions showed 46% of delegates reporting an optimistic attitude attributed to practical health management strategies. 84% of delegates reported on the value of contact with an openly HIV-positive facilitator which was linked to a reduction in stigma and positive benefits attributed to role modelling. 94% of delegates reported high levels of engagement and learning output due to the experiential personally relevant learning environment.

A significant milestone was reached when 90% of the 100 delegates from the coastal regions surrounding Walvis Bay volunteered to be tested for HIV. This unusual result was evidence of a substantial mind-shift in which delegates understood HIV and AIDS to be a chronic manageable disease in which personal action could substantially increase longevity.

As a consequence of the national sensitisation intervention, the Namibian National Teachers Union (NANTU) in association with HAMU and USAID targeted teachers from the most affected regions in the north of Namibia to a workshop in Windhoek. This workshop was a landmark in the national response to HIV and AIDS with over 75% of the delegates publicly disclosing their status. This was remarkable given that most of the delegates were women from remote regions in Namibia where disclosure levels are extremely low. The delegates under the auspices of NANTU, launched the Namibian National Teachers Support Network. Within its first year of operation this network has grown from an initial 40 members to 300 members strong.

The courage displayed by delegates was contagious. Numerous delegates disclosed publicly again for national media and at the 2007 National World AIDS Day Event of the Ministry of Education. One of the delegates,  Liisa Nandjala Taapopi, Queen of Uukwaluudhi told the workshop group: “It is not the end of the world if you test HIV-positive. You can still become a VIP, a parliamentarian, maybe even a governor. You must have a vision for your life.”

“You have brought a smile on all the ministerial staff members who listen to your World AIDS Day message. They are talking about you in their offices and in the corridors. People have already started going for testing, according to them the sooner the better. They got the message and you made a difference in the lives of these people. You are the real freedom fighters.” – Senior Education Officer, Namibian Ministry of Education