THIRTEEN local volunteers living along Papua New Guinea’s most popular historical icon, the Kokoda Track, have been empowered to make a difference to the lives of people living with HIV and AIDS (PLWH) within their communities.
The group successfully completed a HIV Peer Educators course as part of an important step in the process of delivering vital skills to the people residing along the track.
Addressing growing concerns of the apparent risks of transmission, the course covered sexually transmitted infections and HIV prevention, peer education, awareness, and HIV counseling following on from the adoption of the Kokoda Track HIV prevention strategy earlier this year
Graduates of the two-week programme, facilitated by officers from the International Education Agency (IEA) and Anglicare, included five women amongst community leaders, health workers, and a local level government (LLG) councillor, Josh James.
Mr James commended the Kokoda LLG for showing interest in the programme and vowed to draw support for participating graduates through district and provincial government systems to address the challenges of HIV and AIDS.
“Bear in mind that we are fighting the battle ahead of us together and, although there will be problems and hardships along the way, let’s be responsible for our people’s lives along the track,” Mr James said .
Funding and technical support provided by AusAID and the Kokoda Development Programme (KDP) management team are providing the foundation for this crucial programme.
Speaking during the graduation ceremony, IEA facilitator, Charles Essyhafo, said the 13 successful graduates were now Kokoda’s front line in the response against the spread of HIV and AIDS and in particular, reducing discrimination against PLWHAs.
“When we talk about HIV and AIDS, there is an attitude problem in Papua New Guinea that is suppressing people.
“Ignorance and lack of knowledge within society promotes discrimination and stigma and it’s a big challenge we must face head on in this response,” Mr Essyhafo said.
KDP manager, Janet Philemon, encouraged volunteers to use their training as a voice that would offer hope to those living in isolated areas.
“There are many things that you can influence within families affected by HIV and AIDS to provide a longer and better quality of life and I commend you all for taking this into your hearts to do this on a voluntary basis,” she said.
The participants were challenged to go out with the knowledge gained to make a difference and help PLWHAs live a normal and happy life.