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Addressing self-stigma: Reflections from the Community Empowerment Programme

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The Fast Track Cities Empowerment Programme to tackle HIV-related stigma has released a new report of reflections, capturing the perspectives of participating organisations and individuals. The new report includes detail on each project, their unique approach, along with key takeaways and learnings from each organisation as well as personal stories from those who took part.

The programme commissioned six voluntary sector organisations to deliver respective empowerment projects targeting individuals most in need of support. Its objectives were to:

  1. Empower the HIV community to tackle ‘self-stigma’ through development practices and providing support
  2. Foster collaboration between the organisations on the delivery of training programme for a group of identified ambassadors

The organisations focused on a variety of methods and approaches to addressing self-stigma, improving participants wellbeing while also building confidence and self-esteem, these included: in-person and virtual workshops, life coaching courses, women-only spaces, a co-designed magazine about stigma, collaborative podcasts, peer-to-peer learning sessions and more. More on each programme below:

  • Positive East ran three courses aimed at women, African communities, and gay men. The courses included five sessions focusing on addressing internalised stigma, developing support networks, regaining power through U=U, and building positive relationships with the self
  • 4 M Mentor Mother Network and NAM AIDS Map facilitated a women’s only space for African/Afro-Caribbean and migrant women using participatory, person-centred approaches on topics around relationships, HIV and pregnancy, U=U and more.
  • Terrence Higgins Trust hosted several in-person and virtual peer learnings sessions with men who have sex with men (MSM) on building resilience, understanding self-stigma and how to address it, understanding HIV and other related topics.
  • The Love Tank organised a seven session life-coaching programme developed in partnership with Life Clubs (CIC) as well as monthly facilitated workshops, where the participants developed an online queer health magazine ‘Beau’ which had four editions.
  • Positvely UK conducted seven workshops over seven weeks within two HIV clinics at North Middlesex and Homerton hospitals, covering topics on external perceptions and how to manage them.
  • Metro and NAZ: facilitated creative sessions in Spanish and Portuguese rooted in educational interventions resulting in a six-part podcast featuring a range of people from other organisations on the topic of HIV awareness within the Latin American community.

How did the programme impact individuals?

It’s clear from the personal stories and perspectives captured in the report, that the programme was a great success. Several projects recorded pre- and post- evaluation reports of participants, and showed a marked improvement in individuals wellbeing, self-esteem and levels of self-stigma. Through the programme, people opened up and connected with one another, resulting in a brighter outlook on their own life and a willingness to empower and impact others, with greater hope for the future. The programme had a lasting impact on participants, as seen in some of the comments below:

“I thought I was going to live a short life, the course allowed me to realise that I can have a normal and long-life expectancy and so I am now getting my future long-term plans in place. I have now started to live my life with hope of a positive future again.”

“I felt the course gave me a safe and non -judgemental space surrounded by women and an energy and vibe I absorbed was like getting a big hug by the other women and a sense empowerment.”

“I feel I have a future now and the possibility of finding new relationships with others.

“I feel I don’t have to be defined by my HIV since I’ve been on the course. I feel like I’m living again and have redecorated my home to make me feel calmer – comforting and relaxing with my two cats.”

“It increased my creativity, and I was inspired to open up and express my creativity that I had known I had but had never used.”

“I feel more of an advocate and encouraged to be one. I feel my communication and language skills have improved and understand the changing language around HIV.”

“It has given me a positive mindset and I feel I can set goals and have a confidence that helps me move forward and not dwell so much on the negative.”

What learnings did participating groups have?

Representatives from each of the six programmes came together every two months for facilitated problem-solving workshops. There they discussed the approaches of their programmes, challenges they faced, what was working well and any learnings they had.

Several key themes emerged from these joint discussions. There were challenges in recruitment and retention of participants due to various reasons including Zoom fatigue or participants managing conflicting working schedules. Often, participants were extremely vulnerable, and some hadn’t engaged in HIV support services before and were hesitant as a result, so recruiting was sometimes difficult. Participating charities valued the collaborative nature of the programme and found it beneficial to help one another in placing participants with the right groups rather than competing for volunteers. The joined-up approach also meant groups supported each other in promoting for one and another on social media and helped further boost the programmes.

Facilitators discussed the importance of having groups protected for certain cohorts such as women’s groups or groups that are delivered in certain languages. However, others really saw the value in providing mixed groups (i.e. by religion, disabilities, race, LGBTQ, gender etc). They found that by delivering to diverse groups, participants were able to tackle their own unconscious bias, preconceptions, or stereotypes.

Overall, the facilitators enjoyed delivering the programmes and felt they were making a positive difference in people’s lives. For more on the Empowerment Programme, download the full reflection report here. You’ll also find more on how Fast Track Cities London is working to end HIV-related stigma here.

All the findings and reflections from the HIV Community Empowerment Programme have been fed into the tender for the Fast-Track Cities London HIV ambassador programme which went live in April 2023.

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