Ethiopia: with Growing coffee to combat HIV/AIDS?

Traditional coffee ceremonies help explain the risks of HIV/AIDS

In Ethiopia, a little over 2 per cent of the population is infected with HIV, a relatively low rate for sub-Saharan Africa. The story in highly populated areas is an entirely different one, however. In urban areas in particular, the rate fluctuates between 4 and 14 per cent. Development worker Karolina Santana is involved in an innovative approach to preventing HIV. The setting is a traditional coffee ceremony, a popular ritual in Ethiopia, the birthplace of the popular beverage.

Great pleasure is taken here in the ritual of preparing and relishing coffee. In honour of a tradition that goes back hundreds of years, the green coffee beans are freshly roasted over hot coals in a brazier. The beans are then ground or crushed. The coffee grounds are then put into a special clay coffee pot, mixed with water and brought to the boil.

In a process that takes about one hour, the coffee is brought to the boil three times. It is then served with traditional bread and fresh popcorn. An important part of the ceremony is inviting friends and neighbours to relish the delightful aromas that waft from the freshly roasted coffee beans. Everyone makes themselves comfortable and exchanges the latest gossip.

The coffee ceremony is now being used in Ethiopia as a fresh approach to raising long-term awareness of HIV. In its national prevention strategy, the Ethiopian Government promotes the coffee ceremony as a means of preventing the spread of the virus. It also supports training courses for discussion moderators at the community level and in schools and universities. GIZ's Development Service also assists its partner organisations in using the innovative and very cost-effective approach to raise awareness in its workplace programmes. Within the context of training moderators in partner organisations, it helps to plan and implement the ceremonies.

In the partner organisation Federal Micro and Small Enterprises Development Agency in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, the event was introduced four months ago at the Development Service's initiative. A coffee ceremony is now held every two weeks. Mr Asfaw, Head of the HIV Committee at the partner organisation, coordinates activities. 'The routine discussions among staff have brought our workplace programme back to life,' he states. 'People are becoming more open over time and are using the opportunity to discuss problems such as the stigma that goes with having HIV or the misconceptions that surround the risk of infection from personal experience. HIV risk factors at the workplace – a subject that would never have been broached before – are discussed in an open and constructive manner. Introducing the ceremony at the workplace has helped staff to open up to each other and has had a very positive impact on the work atmosphere.'

Theodros Habte, who works in the partner organisation, and helps organise the awareness-raising sessions, adds: 'I really enjoy the coffee ceremony. It encourages everyone to get involved and achieves the desired results. People leave empowered and with a sense of achievement. Ignorance and misconceptions are discussed in depth. This helps clear the air and banish doubt and fear. I love my work. I really feel that change must start with each and every one of us. The coffee ceremony helps me and my colleagues to develop an awareness of our actions and of the risks posed by HIV. The instrument itself is routinely discussed with the [...] experts. During these sessions, we work on specific themes together and improve our moderation skills.'

To make the programme more interesting, the Development Service assists other institutions in inviting external guests to regularly attend events. Theatre groups from anti-HIV youth clubs and members of self-help groups for people affected by HIV add another dimension to proceedings. Visitors facilitate more lively discussion. Hearing about the daily problems faced by someone who is HIV-positive over a cup of coffee reduces stigma and encourages people to rally round and provide support. Being more aware of the issues involved, they are less likely to discriminate against people living with HIV.

The anti-HIV coffee ceremony at the workplace throws a constant spotlight on HIV as a problem in society. Other aspects of reproductive health are also addressed. Taboo subjects such as early marriages, family planning, gender inequality and sexual harassment at the workplace are discussed in a group. Integrating a centuries-old tradition into HIV prevention work has already notched up a lot of success in Ethiopia.

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