Some months back, Mr Dennis Akagha an Ebola survivor and fiancee to late Miss Justina Ejelonu came on the blog to share with us his experiences. Today he is on here again but not to share his experience rather he is here to tell us about his social venture or initiative “JustCare” which he just recently launched here in Nigeria after being away from the country for so long.
Q: May we meet you sir?
A: My name is Dennis Akagha, from eastern part of Nigeria. The founder and director of JustCare; a social venture that focuses on reducing the level of stigma attached to people living with HIV/AIDS and other similar infectious diseases that could lead to stigma. As you know, I am one of the Ebola survivors in Nigeria and as a matter of fact, this initiative was founded as a result of my personal experience and also in memory of my late fiancee, for her dream and passion of love and care she had for humanity.
Q: Can you elaborate more on what JustCare is about?
A: JustCare is a social venture with a vision to creating a community where people living with HIV/AIDS and survivors of other infectious diseases are not stigmatised, rather they are empowered to lead a productive and fulfilled life. We do this through workshops, campaigns, conducting life skill training and also we are looking forward to having an entrepreneurship training centre where people living with HIV, jobless with no adequate sources of livelihood can be trained and also empowered to start up their own businesses. This January we will be running a social media campaign called #RethinkHIV and this project will be spearheaded by popular faces in Nigeria, as well interested persons who will want to be part of this cause.
Q: This seems to be an enormous task. How do you intend to get the interest of the general public into this social venture.
A: Yes, it is an enormous task but the truth is, we really want the support of the general public through what we do and what we stand for. People want to see what you have done and how sustainable it would be before they join a cause. So I believe through the little we are going to be doing in our own little domain to grow big, we will gain the support of the public.
Q: What steps have you taken towards ensuring the fulfilment of this project?
A: When I realized I had a huge responsibility to play and that going into the NGO world was not something you woke up one morning and ventured into, I had to travel to India for an eight months training. This helped in broadening my knowledge and understanding of how NGOs are runned and managed. It was a wonderful experience especially being among people from different countries who have encountered challenges and overcame them and also using that experience to effect a change in their communities. So the basic step I took was to acquire knowledge and skills that will enable me successfully run the project.
Q: So far, what has been the response of the general public towards this project?
A: Well, people are responding although I need more response to create this change. I want to be able to use my story and the stories of others to effect a positive change of mindset which ordinarily, I can’t do alone. You will never know what people are going through until you hear their story. Presently, I have been in touch with people who are affected and also infected; heard their stories and also told them my plans. A tree, they say, cannot make a forest and that’s the more reason why I need the support and response of people in whatever way to drive this change. I understand the power of social media and getting support and response via that channel, that’s why I presently run a blog and Facebook page and Twitter account while our website is understand construction. I believe if you consistently make a noise, people will definitely get uncomfortable and will be moved to ask you why? So these are just mediums for making positive noise to attract response and support from individuals who have same drive and passion for social change.
Q: Why do you think Nigerians need sensitization on the need to stop stigmatizing HIV patients?
A: Not that Nigerians are not informed but the truth is they are still laying hold on the information they got far back in the 1980s. A vast majority of people believe that any person infected with HIV lived an immoral life. Some believed that HIV is an automatic death sentence which is not true while some don’t even know the means of transmitting HIV. Well, we are in the 21st century and more technological/medical advancement is been achieved daily to eradicate the virus or keep it under control like every other diseases such as diabetes, cancer etc. It’s very shocking that a medical doctor and some nurses I had a chat with don’t know what PrEp (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is all about. A pill taken once daily and highly effective, that prevents one from being infected if exposed to HIV. This shows how much people need to get informed and stop living in the 80s. I understand the level of fear to most people too but I strongly believe that with the right information, there should be no need for fear.
Q: Earlier you said something about JustCare helping people living with HIV start their businesses…how do you intend to do this?
A: I will prefer not to say much on this but it’s an idea I got while in India during my internship with an NGO. According to the Stigma Index of People living with HIV in Nigeria, a vast majority of people living with the virus are poor, jobless and without adequate sources of livelihood. This undermines the effectiveness of accessing treatment due to the cost involved. HIV treatment use to be free in Nigeria but due to some draw backs in foreign donors, people are been asked to pay for treatment. Nigeria now has an anti hiv discrimination laws but like most of our laws, its just on papers. That is, it’s hardly implumented. We want to work with what they have and what they can deliver. For those who want to start something new, we ensure that, that is achieve so as to make them be able to generate income for themselves. There is this self worth that comes to someone who is earning money for himself at the end of the month. This doesn’t just put food on the table but it also helps fight stigma by gradually changing the mindset of society that people living with HIV can also amount to something and not turned object of pity.
Q: Thank you very much for sharing with us. For those who want to join you in this initiative or contribute in one way or the other, how do they go about it?
A: We are presently working on our website but we can be reached via our Facebook page and twitter for those who want to be part of this cause. http://www.facebook.com/justcareinitiative and @JustCareNG and they can also visit the blog http://www.justcareng.wordpress.com.
And it is a wrap! I hope you enjoyed reading through and mostly that you gained something :):):)