Bart Cox – co-ordinator, Johannesburg Diocese HIV/AIDS Programme until May 2002. Currently co-director of Community AIDS Response (CARE)
I was part of the organising team for the All Africa Anglican Conference on HIV/AIDS and, as I live in Johannesburg, I became involved in the event logistics. This meant overseeing conference facilities, delegates’ travel arrangements and following up on delegate participation.
The conference, held in August 2001, was so important because of the mandate given to Njongonkulu Ndungane by the Synod of the Archbishops of the Anglican Communion in March of that year. Archbishop Ndungane had taken over the HIV/AIDS portfolio for the Church of the Province of Southern Africa (CPSA) at the beginning of the Durban 2000 International AIDS Conference and had put HIV/AIDS, together with poverty, high on his priority list. At the beginning of 2001, the synod gave him the authority to convene a conference making HIV/AIDS an integral part of the Anglican Church’s mission.
Although the conference was based in Africa, the thinking was that other Anglican provinces around the world – such as Cuba, Philippines and Hong Kong – would also benefit, since at some stage the HIV/AIDS pandemic would affect them as well. But the conference wasn’t just aimed at countries facing an HIV/AIDS epidemic. We also wanted to include people from the UK and USA as partners to the process.
Drawing up the invitation list was difficult and one of the first challenges we faced. Our mandate and aim was to invite people who were already actively working with HIV/AIDS. Instead we got a lot of clergy and bishops. This was very useful when it came to drawing up policy and securing support from the hierarchy, but didn’t help us gain insight into what was already happening within the various communities.
We also wanted the participation of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHAs) and, although people like Rev Gideon Byamugisha (a Ugandan priest who is living with HIV/AIDS) were involved, most of the other PLHAs weren’t known to the church so it took time to establish a relationship with them. Although their ongoing involvement is crucial, it’s important to remember that PLHAs must be relevant in their own right and have the necessary experience and insight into the pandemic. They must have earned their stripes in some way otherwise their involvement isn’t meaningful in this context.
After careful consideration we also decided to make it not just a conference, but rather a participatory workshop which was structured with two tracks running parallel. These two tracks were designed to address the specific needs of each partner group separately and then come together at various points in the proceedings.
Having two partner tracks was very successful and meant the needs of each group could be properly addressed. These groups were very well managed by the facilitation team, the POLICY Project. You need experienced and very creative facilitators to run this sort of workshop successfully, especially with such diverse participants. If your facilitators aren’t up to standard, then you’re lost and will waste valuable time.
Another good idea was to allow delegates to choose their area of interest/expertise from one of the six building blocks, namely leadership, care, prevention, counselling, pastoral care, and death and dying. This meant that these groups were small – sometimes there were only 10 people per group – which was ideal. The outcome was that people owned the project. This “owning of the proceedings and the outcome” was one of the most valuable results.