TAKORADI, Ghana — “We know we have many walls in our way, but we just have to keep trying, and eventually we see change,” a peer educator who works with men who have sex with men (MSM) told me at Maritime Life Precious Foundation (MLPF) when I visited their program here in Ghana’s second largest port in October.
Housed in a shipping warehouse, Global Health Council member organization MLPF, led by founder and director Francis Wosornu, was wrapping up a series of community projects ranging from working with HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, orphans and vulnerable children, female sex workers and MSM.
MLPF, through the support of AED SHARP (Strengthening HIV/AIDS Response Partnerships of the Academy for Educational Development, another GHC member) www.aed.org/Projects/ghana-sharp.cfm, has demonstrated success in effectively reaching most-at-risk populations – particularly MSM. This success inspired AED SHARP to support expansion of the project across the central, eastern and Volta regions of Ghana, including the capital of Accra.
Starting from a partnership with the Center for Popular Education and Human Rights, Ghana (CEPEHRG) – the first organization to do an MSM pilot program in Takoradi – the peer educators at MLPF were connected to this network and, through a snowball method, have expanded their reach from a handful to an extensive network of men. Using various forms of communication – text messages, email, live chats – the peer educators connect with MSM to encourage testing and use of condoms and lubricant.
They also organize social gatherings, encouraging friends to bring other friends, growing their network and credibility among the population with each event. These gatherings have not only helped pass on behavior change messages, but have also encouraged men who previously guarded their sexual preferences to come forth and be more open, discovering an available and supportive network to reach out to. One program piece, called “Text Me, Flash Me,” involves using phones to contact nurses who are available on a rotating basis each day. Their contact numbers are distributed to the MSM community who then flash or text a counselor to get information on safer sex and counseling and testing. This has been well utilized as it is both convenient and confidential, two critical requirements for populations trying to avoid disclosure and discrimination.
Because Takoradi is a port town, there is a high occurrence of informal sex transactions between mariners and the local population. These interactions are predicted to increase due to a recent discovery of oil several hours north of the coast, causing business entrepreneurship to rise in Takoradi and western Ghana. The team at MLPF warns that this recent event makes their outreach program more necessary than ever. Yet while the team has shown their efforts to be effective, without ongoing support they will find it difficult to meet the needs for education and preventative efforts among this population.
“Their health is our concern,” stated one peer educator. Regardless of financial support, these whole-hearted and motivated youth will press on to serve their community to their maximum capacity.
Maritime Life Precious Foundation was founded as a community-based organization in 2001. Its mission is to advocate for most at-risk populations (MSM, female sex workers, the girl child, child laborers, orphans and vulnerable children), women’s empowerment, education and community mobilization in the urban, rural, and fishing communities of western Ghana in the fight for disease prevention through sustainable projects and capacity building. You can contact MLPF at email@example.com or at http://www.amrlgh.com/ngo.html.