The Saints Peter and Paul Peace and Social Justice Committee invites you to focus on Catholic Relief Services’ MICROFINANCE operations
In our last article, we began an in-depth exploration of Catholic Relief Services’ (CRS’) Savings and Internal Lending Communities (SILC) model. First, we reviewed what it is. Then, we moved on to what it does, in particular, how it can improve water and sanitation conditions for SILC members and those around them. We will continue to learn about the SILC model by observing the ways in which it helps address challenges across several areas of development. Now, we will take a look at how SILC activities support people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV) and those around them, and orphans and vulnerable children (OVC). CRS began its first HIV project in Uganda in 1989. Since then, CRS has been working diligently to support those affected by HIV and to prevent the spread of the virus. Recently, CRS celebrated the success of AIDS Relief, a consortium (of which CRS was the lead agency) that used grants from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to enable over 700,000 patients to access care and treatment since 2004. Such successes create new opportunities and new challenges. As CRS put it, “The increasing availability of antiretroviral therapy (ART) in many low resource settings has changed the natural history of HIV dramatically, creating a chronic condition from what was once a fatal disease.” This means that while many old challenges persist, the social and economic needs of PLHIV and those around them may be somewhat different than they were in the past. The SILC model is one way in which these needs are being met. This can be seen in the Kibara Mission Hospital HIV Project (Kibara Project) in northwestern Tanzania, on the shores of Lake Victoria. This project aimed to improve the quality of life for households in the area affected by HIV, and to reduce the spread of the virus. In 2002, when the project began, several challenges presented themselves, poverty being one of the foremost. When poverty is present, it often trumps concerns about the spread of HIV. Sex in exchange for food was common. Poor quality of housing and nutrition often made it even more difficult for PLHIV to stay healthy and strong. The first phase of the Kibara Project focused on health interventions. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) was not yet available, but voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) and home-based care (HBC) were facilitated and encouraged. What the project was missing was an effective tool to combat poverty. For instance, although the Kibara Project often stressed the importance of adequate nutrition to PLHIV, the specific foods recommended were often unaffordable. The second phase of the Kibara Project, begun in 2005, introduced the SILC model along with health interventions. SILC addressed the economic challenges faced by many PLHIV in the area. Many SILC members in the Kibara Project used their savings or took out loans to upgrade their living conditions, invest in land, start a business or expand an existing one. Some groups invested collectively. One group purchased fishing
equipment and began an income-generating fishing activity to support the group’s social fund, which it used to assist PLHIV, the elderly, and orphans in their community. The SILC model is also able to address some social challenges associated with HIV/AIDS, such as stigma. In 2008, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated in an op-ed piece in The Washington Times, “Stigma is a chief reason the AIDS epidemic continues to devastate societies around the world.” If the topic of HIV/AIDS is not even discussable, it is impossible to dispel oppressive attitudes and beliefs, and to teach people how to avoid contracting the virus and care for those who have contracted it. SILC groups often serve as a platform for HIV/AIDS education and awareness. In the Kibara Project, most SILC groups incorporated the highly-successful “Stepping Stones” curriculum, which encourages dialogue and openness. In societies where being HIVpositive can be an isolating experience, SILC groups provide engagement and social cohesion. According to CRS, “several of the members in interviews indicated that in the event that they were to fall ill, they were confident that their fellow SILC members would take care of them, particularly through visits and social support.” This idea of a support network is a reminder that HIV/AIDS impacts entire communities, and is tightly intertwined OVC. According to CRS, “It is estimated that 15.2 million children globally under the age of 18 have lost at least one parent to AIDS.” These children are left to provide their own livelihoods, or to rely on the support of their communities or other family members, who are often already struggling. Many orphans and other vulnerable youth are forced to drop out of school or engage in dangerous behavior to support themselves. They are at increased risk of being trafficked for sex or labor. “For OVC and youth in general, programs that give support for livelihood development are critical to their survival,” according to CRS. SILC groups provide such support. With SILC, OVC can finance simple activities that support their livelihoods. For example, OVC can use SILC funds to finance kitchen gardens that generate incomes in addition to providing food for their households. Many OVC use SILC funds to purchase basic commodities (like food or fabric) for other income-generating activities. SILC funds can also finance housing, education, and health care for OVC. Furthermore, the presence of adult mentors and/or similarly-situated peers provides OVC with some of the psychosocial support they may lack in the absence of parents. With SILC, OVC can gain life skills, business knowledge, and financial management skills, all of which decrease the likelihood that they will fall victim to trafficking or engage in dangerous activities. On World Aids Day, December 1, 2013, Pope Francis prayed with crowds in St. Peter’s Square, saying, “We express our solidarity with the people affected by HIV/AIDS, especially children.” CRS has expressed this solidarity with action, bringing the SILC model to PLHIV and OVC, who are some of our world’s most vulnerable citizens. We look forward to examining the other areas of development with which SILC has positively engaged. Stay tuned to the bulletin, and in the meantime, visit crs.org, for more inspiration and information.