/ 30 October 2009

Sowing the seeds of knowledge

Winner — Investing in Life Award: Hoedspruit Training Trust’s Hlokomela Project

People who live and work on commercial farms have been identified as a highly mobile, vulnerable group with little or no access to HIV/Aids information, care, support or treatment.

‘The commercial agricultural sector is one of South Africa’s main economic drivers, contributing 3.1% to the annual gross domestic product and employing 11% of the total workforce. Yet it remains one of the sectors least responsive to the challenges of HIV,” said Christine du Preez, spokesperson for the Hoedspruit Training Trust.

The trust is a non-profit organisation that aims to empower commercial farm workers and their families with a greater sense of responsibility for their personal health, spiritual and educational development.

In 2005 the trust launched the Hlokomela Project, which coordinates health and educational-development initiatives for 40 agricultural businesses. It also provides HIV/Aids interventions specifically targeted at permanent and seasonal farm workers.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) conducted a study in 2003 on HIV vulnerability among migrant farm workers on 12 commercial farms in Hoedspruit (Limpopo) and Burgersfort (Mpumalanga). The study revealed high levels of migration and mobility on commercial farms and alarming levels of unsafe sexual behaviour among farm workers.

In response to these findings the IOM partnered the Hoedspruit Training Trust to strengthen the Hlokomela Project. The approach is to treat HIV/Aids not just as a health issue but also as a developmental challenge. It was this comprehensive strategy that persuaded the Investing in the Future judges to single out the trust for the Investing in Life category, saying it should be replicated elsewhere.

‘The Hlokomela Project goes the extra mile, in terms of improving quality of life, service delivery and innovation,” the judges said. ‘It focuses on the greatest areas of need among migrant and rural farm workers and is having a good impact.”

The cornerstone of the project design is the empowerment of people through targeted and peer education. It encourages local ownership and team-building. ‘The innovative dimension of the Hlokomela Project lies in its holistic approach, emphasis on local ownership and interdependence on networking. The programme sees farm management, farm workers and their families and migrant labourers all as part of one community,” said Du Preez.

Networks include the trust’s Farm Workers Care for Each Other Project, which is running on 49 farms and reaches about 8 000 people. The trust has participated in an HIV prevalence and behavioural survey among employees on commercial farms in Hoedspruit, conducted by Dr Clive Evian of Aids Management and Support.

The survey found that ‘farm workers appear to be exposed to various HIV-risk determinant factors such as seasonal employment, increased mobility to secure employment, family instability due to long periods away from home, long-distance travel to and from work, low income, unfavourable accommodation, poor access to healthcare and gender exploitation”.

The survey will provide employers and employees with a more accurate appreciation of the epidemic in the farming community and a deeper understanding of the factors that may translate into risk for HIV infection. ‘It is hoped the survey will form a baseline against which prevention and education efforts can be measured and appraised.”

Hlokomela runs two wellness clinics that provide accessible healthcare and referral services to farm workers, migrants and their families. It has started a weekly outreach programme for its member farms, which provides HIV/Aids-related medical counselling and support services to more than 300 clients.

Du Preez said the project serves as a model for other IOM partners operating on farms in Mpumalanga and Limpopo. ‘The big challenge facing development projects like Hlokomela is how to help people move beyond awareness of HIV to actually changing their behaviour and taking steps to protect themselves and their families from infection.”

Said Patrick Cockayne, one of the Hlokomela trainers: ‘We have to stop thinking in terms of us and them. Instead of telling people what they must do, we have to listen to their concerns and assist them to find solutions for challenges, providing support and encouragement wherever possible. ‘Only then will people be empowered to take the steps necessary to protect themselves,” Cockayne said.