Thirteen West African countries. Thousands of youth and women. The numbers are daunting. But Ayoko Bahun-Wilson, West Africa regional coordinator of the Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiative in Africa (EHAIA), is determined to help West African youth become conscious, committed and prepared to fight to reduce the rate of HIV infections.
Since 2003, Bahun-Wilson has been travelling across 13 West African countries to organize training sessions, workshops and seminars for religious communities and churches. “The expectations and especially the challenges facing those involved in the fight in the sub-region have made me invest all my effort and energy in the youth and women, who constitute the most vulnerable populations,” she says.
Working with youth, she has published, among other resources, a Manual of the Youth against Stigmatization and Discrimination; A Handbook on HIV Awareness for the Armed Forces and Peace Building in Côte d’Ivoire; and Epidemiological Indicators on the HIV and AIDS Situation in West Africa, which presents in a concise way the political, socio-demographic and cultural factors of the infection. Currently, she is working with youth toward publication of a handbook on counseling youth, and another for Sunday School teachers.
Bahun-Wilson also used the media in the sub-region to reach out to a great number of people. This approach made it possible to mobilize religious institutions in difficult-to-reach areas in the region.
This cooperation also facilitated publication and broadcast of two CDs, one entitled “We Live With...” which highlights the testimonies of people affected by HIV.
With the support of religious leaders, Bahun-Wilson spearheaded the creation of the Interfaith Youth Alliance in the Fight against HIV in West Africa, which aims to reinforce advocacy and take up the challenges of an educated, informed and tolerant youth.
In her commitment to fight against HIV-related stigmatization and discrimination, Bahun-Wilson focuses her action on women and especially infected widows, who are stigmatized due to cultural obstacles. “The widows in Ghana are currently well-mobilized in religious communities to sensitize and protect those who are victims,” said Bahun-Wilson.
With a compassionate approach, Bahun-Wilson, works together with pastors and with the associations of people living with HIV in Togo, working to improve the lives of sexual minorities.
Bahun-Wilson's love for challenges and her tenacity have helped her to widen her scope of action by using the experience gathered at EHAIA to help the National HIV and AID Control Commissions of the sub-region, UNICEF in Togo, and the Alliance of Religious Leaders of West and Central Africa.
Several churches in the sub-region have started developing a program and strategic plan to combat the HIV and AIDS pandemic.
In Ghana, for instance, the pedagogical and technical assistance of EHAIA has allowed the Presbyterian Church in Ghana to develop an HIV program that works toward developing, publishing and implementing an HIV and AIDS policy. The viability of this program helped the church launch an efficient advocacy project that led to the mobilization of funds from the Ghana National AIDS Control Program.
“Despite the challenges in HIV response in the sub-region, our hope must remain alive,” says Bahun-Wilson.