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Sisonke Project - South Africa

Introducing Sisonke

AVERT has supported Sisonke since 2004. Sisonke is an isiZulu word meaning 'we are all together'.

Kei Road gogosThe aim of the Sisonke project is to empower communities to develop community-initiated, sustainable, and innovative responses to the HIV and AIDS epidemic. They achieve this by providing training and mentoring to groups within the community.

Sisonke is implemented by the Diocese of Grahamstown’s Department of Social Responsibility (DSR) and we work closely together to develop and expand the project and ensure that it is meeting the needs of local communities. The DSR is a community-based organisation working in Eastern Cape, one of the regions most affected by the HIV and AIDS epidemic in South Africa. They work with around 20 rural communities, reaching an estimated 1,800 people directly and 84,000 indirectly.

What is the context of the project?

HIV and AIDS have had a devastating effect on families in this region, leaving many children without one or both parents, and grandparents to play the role of caregiver. Communities require support to understand and deal with this loss and to provide the necessary care for people living with HIV (PLHIV) and orphans and vulnerable children (OVC).

The elderly, who once had a respected and established role in the community, had become disempowered and were lacking a sense of purpose. Sisonke provides elderly, mainly female, carers with the knowledge and power to take control of their situation, to have the confidence to reinstate themselves as the head of the community and to spread knowledge about HIV and AIDS. 

You can also visit our dedicated webpage for more information about the  response to the HIV and AIDS epidemic in South Africa.

What are the project activities?

Goat milk helps keep communities healthySisonke mobilises and empowers these elderly women who have formed a network known as the Gogogetters (gogo is the isiXhosa word for ‘grandmother’), by providing mentoring and training. The support they receive has helped them build knowledge around HIV and AIDS, develop counselling skills, acquire home-based care qualifications, and get involved in national discussions affecting the elderly. The Gogos have also built strong support networks and meet regularly to plan their work, or eat and sew together.

Sisonke also provides small-scale farming training to communities. Currently communities are receiving training in goat rearing, permaculture and container gardening techniques (to develop community gardens grow vegetables at home). This ensures communities have a sustainable supply of nutritious milk and food, which is particularly important for OVC and PLHIV. Communities are able to pass on this learning to others, making it more sustainable.

The project also provides a drop-in paralegal support service at the DSR office for communities. The majority of people are seeking advice about accessing social security benefits, while others need to talk through things that have happened to them and find out how to access legal services.

A small grant fund is available to enable communities to overcome barriers to sustainable food and livelihoods, for example getting them started with seeds and tools for gardening. Some of the Gogo groups have received training and started to make crafts, such as beaded jewellery and household items knitted from plastic bags. The Gogos plan to sell the products to provide an additional income to help support their activities and provide for their families.

What is Sisonke's vision and impact?

Sisonke children playing at Azeli centreThe Sisonke project is developed and led by the community themselves, therefore it is truly owned at a community level and the activities undertaken are what the community really needs.

The DSR’s role is to provide the mentoring, training and guidance to local people to build their capacity to deal with the impact of the AIDS epidemic and empower them to overcome challenges and build a sustainable response. The change envisaged by the project is to avert the spread of HIV and AIDS by building stronger community networks and changing behaviour.

The elderly women reached by the Sisonke project feel empowered by the training and mentoring they have received from the DSR and it has greatly improved their confidence levels and their ability to take care of children and young people. In turn this has improved both their health and that of those in their care.

Hear from Sisonke:

Tony Schnell, Director of the DSR, contributed an article for AVERT's World AIDS Day 2012 guest writer feature 'Reflections on the Epidemic' -  follow this link to read Tony's article entitled 'Gogo-getters become elders'. You can also watch a video interview with Tony here.

Judy Silwana, HIV/AIDS Coordinator at the DSR, was interviewed for Global Female Condom Day 2013 about her advocacy work in South Africa to promote and increase take-up of female condoms. You can read the interview here.

Two young people from the DSR's girls and boys groups are active members of AVERT's Get Plugged In youth forum. For World Development Information Day 2013, we asked them how technology improves access to HIV/AIDS information and awareness of HIV/AIDS development challenges - you can read their interviews here.

"It is with great joy that we have been privileged to see in the last years how the potential has been realised. These achievements would not have been possible without the supportive partnership with AVERT. The journey is ongoing and we continue to move forward as a partnership, making a difference in thousands of lives" - Desire Nokele, Sisonke Group Developer.


None of this work would be possible without your support. If you would like to support us please donate to AVERT or visit our fundraising for AVERT, page for ways to fundraise for the charity. Thank you!

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